Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter
Oh, My Girl
When this local singer-songwriter performs, she does it from behind the long black veil of hair that hangs limply in her face, protecting her from the invasive glare of her audience. On record, where we come to glare guarded from the world ourselves, her protection is the playing of her guitarist, former Whiskeytown member Phil Wandscher. Throughout Oh, My Girl, Jesse Sykes' second album, Wandscher runs interference for the singer, slicing across her laid-bare descriptions of ruined love with careful, tightly coiled lead lines that are in every way this record's second voice. Theirs is a pairing as natural and true as Simon and Garfunkel's or Steve and Eydie's: Sykes sings in a tender, cigarette-scraped rasp with an accent that simultaneously evokes the untamed wagon-wheel West and the England of rainy royal gloom; Wandscher juxtaposes sour hints of spaghetti-Western twang with sweet folk-rock strumming, and never plays three notes where two will do. Which doesn't mean he's able to keep his mate as safe as she'd like: In pungent wisps of melancholy like "You Are Not Gotten Here" and the album's title track, where she declares, "Between them trees is all the world's fuckery," Sykes sounds as devastated as a low-volume indie troubadour can these days. When the tempo picks up in "The Dreaming Dead," a fine-lined Creedence Clearwater revival, Sykes must still admit, "Only in your arms will this fire last." But the guitarist is always there, inviting us in even as he keeps us out. MIKAEL WOOD
Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter play Tractor Tavern between headliners the Minus 5 and openers Mike Dumovich and Larry Barrett at 9 p.m. Thurs., Dec. 23. $8 adv./$10. The show is a benefit for Lisa Hagman.
Raphael Saadiq as Ray Ray
Neo-soul is far from the zaniest of genres. Maybe thoughtful '70s fetishists, having seen how easily an era can be sealed in a tomb of campy polyester, have reason to be stingy with the jokes. But Raphael Saadiq has never been able to keep from grinning. The founding member of Tony Toni Tone and Lucy Pearl has grown almost transcendentally footloose and callow in his solo career—on his latest disc, he searches for a girl with "an open mind" one minute, then breezes into commitment a few tracks later with a fantastically unbelievable marriage proposal. And he's too giddy to pass up a chance to indulge in a schlocky opening gambit that follows the spoken-word "Blaxploitation" with the campy "Ray Ray Theme." By the same token, Saadiq is too fickle to milk this conceit, which he's dropped by track three, the guitar showcase "I Know Shuggie Otis"—a telling name-drop, that, much like a latter cut titled "Chic," is distinguished with familiar disco string punctuation.Saadiq's comic sense comes through not just in his lyrics but in the way he luxuriates in his stylistic re-creations, which are devoid of both a virtuoso's flaunted ego and a historian's respectful self-abasement. Some other trad weirdo— maybe Erykah Badu—could conceivably use a gunshot to punctuate a song, as Saadiqdoes here on "Rifle Love." But would they include the sound of that rifle being cocked? And fired twice per chorus? KEITH HARRIS
Raphael Saadiq plays Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., 206-215-4747, with Lyfe and Teedra Moses at 7 p.m. Mon., Dec. 27. $40. Part of Seattle Holiday Comedy and Music Festival.
Big A Little a
Aa are sure to be at the head of every record list this year—at least any one that's arranged alphabetically, topping even that Aaron Aardvark record. Call the Brooklyn-based quintet what they call their debut: Big A Little a (not AA), wherein every member doubles as a drummer (à la Sun Ra's Arkestra) and manipulator of cheap electronic components, all shouting or murmuring amid their sputtering, spacey clamor. How heavily they are indebted to first-grade iconography is vague (was it the smiley worm in an Apple? the friendly Astronaut?), but it's safe to assume that the !!!/Out Hud dance-punk school and Rhode Island School of Design's Class of '98 (think Black Dice or Forcefield) weigh heavily on the band's early education. After a few years of throwing hissy fits in barely legal loft spaces deep in industrial wastelands, playing places like Chicken Hut Loft and Happy Birthday Hideout on bills with TV on the Radio, Nautical Almanac, Mindflayer, and Japanther, Aa grew up just enough to get beyond the boroughs. The grooves of this one-sided 12-inch jump between prenatal prattle and myoclonic noise; you could deduce from their thematic drawings of hide-wearing lady waifs decapitating enormous swine on both sleeve and flyer that the group embodies an art-school brand of tribalism that slays capitalist pigs with its avant noise. But even if Aa aren't nearly that revolutionary, they'll at least twitch and glitch enough to get the school dance sweaty. ANDY BETA
Aa play Gallery 1412, 1412 18th St., with John Tsunam at 7 p.m. Sun., Dec. 26. $5. All ages.
Ta Det Lungt
Believe it or not, it's relatively easy to come to grips with the apparent reality that Dungen's Ta Det Lungt was not actually recorded in 1970. You can take the album as simply another example of Sweden's retro-rock fixation, though this fusion of the Who's monster-pop assault on Live at Leeds with decade's-turn Kinks twee and the keyboard-heavy bits from pre–Dark Side Pink Floyd that sound like space capsules spinning out of control is more ambitious than most Swedish premodern. The fact that everything on the album is played and sung by one man is hardly farfetched when you take into account good-to-great self-contained pop records from Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything? to Prince's Prince to RJD2's Since We Last Spoke. But 24-year-old Gustav Ejstes just seems unreal, whether machine-gunning the rhythm on the vicious opener, "Panda," with concrete-cracking drums and a bass line so thick it needs black and yellow tape around it, or rolling out the airy, wintry piano melody and mist-wafting flutes of "Det du Tänker Idag Är du I Morgon," which out-Guaraldis the "Skating" song from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Ejstes' multitracked vocals ring out most memorably, though—harmonically rich and reminiscent of a Badfinger that teeter more toward Lennon than McCartney. The words are all in Swedish, so I can't understand them. That means it's possible Ejstes can't write lyrics for beans. But considering how he handles everything else on the album, there's room for doubt even there. NATE PATRIN
The Soft Pink Truth
Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Soft Pink Truth?
If you're starting to think that pretending to be the Gang of Four led by the ghost of Ian Curtis is perhaps not something that today's guitar bands should continue to do for yet another year, Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Soft Pink Truth? proves you right. The kids have been looking to the right era for inspiration, but they've had the genre and instrumentation all wrong: The (soft, pink) truth is that sample-heavy electronic covers of hardcore and punk songs are far more rewarding than recycled new wave. On his second solo album, Drew Daniel (Renaissance literature Ph.D. student and one half of Björk collaborators Matmos) mines old-school punk takes on economics, politics, and sexuality to deliver one of the more thoughtful, relevant, and irreverent albums of the year. The communard anarchism of Crass' "Do They Owe Us a Living?" seems a naive anachronism, but the melodic, skittering funk of Daniel's arrangement makes it delightfully new and reminds us that the song was always tongue-in-cheek. Daniel injects an appreciation of illicit pleasure into Minor Threat's prissy straight-edge manifesto "Out of Step," and makes STDs sound almost enticing with Teddy and the Frat Girls' obscure "I Owe It to the Girls." "Confession," originally by early Phranc band Nervous Gender, posits Jesus Christ as a Los Angeles hustler while alternating cool minimalism first with a buzz-saw synth line, then with piano chords and a diva wail that might have come from an 808 State record. Academic as its liner notes are, the album is a lot more fun than your Marxist theory or queer studies class, even if you did go home with that hot professor at the end-of-semester party. KRISTAL HAWKINS
Some of you want to come up here to Canada to avoid the draft or get an abortion. You should know that the country is divided between Beige Provinces and Gray Provinces. The Maple Leaf is a brand icon, not a symbol, so as usual the chiaroscuro cover graphic on Kingston, Ontario's biggest-selling artist's new album has no relation to its title. At least this time the title is related to the contents, as the vocals were all recorded in hotels while on tour. None of these hotels were the crack house SROs in Vancouver's downtown East Side serial-killer playground, even though the first song here is called "East Side Story." Like that other Roxy roller named Bryan, this one started off glam-rockin' ("She's a kind of gnu that belongs in a zoo," from 1977's "Shut Up"), but it was the not-Canadian one who sang in French occasionally, although that one never exploited the Dumpster as a lead instrument, Eno or no. No dumpsters here, either, as all the ones in Vancouver are at full occupancy. In "This Side of Paradise," this Red Ensign colonial, who duetted with Mel C. and recorded an ode to Princess Di, refers to 69 again, a recurring theme with him. Maybe one day the National Film Board will release the Di/Mel C. 69 video, and we'll be able to pay for our own missile defense. Until then, if you need superstar-tribulation gravel-gargling with frostbitten funk, gangrenous guitars, and a surreal black-and-white cover, then stick with Nazareth's road-fever epic, Close Enough for Rock and Roll, which happily includes "Vancouver Shakedown," which you can listen to while filling out that immigration form. That's a song about the end times. Did you know that government phone numbers in Vancouver all start with 666? DAVE QUEEN