Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Official Soundtrack Box Set
The success last year of the sensitive-indie-heavy Garden State soundtrack was just one more sign that we've settled firmly into the Age of Bricolage. iTunes and its less legitimate peers have made mixtape connoisseurs out of us all, so it makes sense that in America we'd look to culture to give us what we can make ourselves. The series of mixes from The O.C. showcased the curatorial possibilities of the form: "Dude, who are the Long Winters, and where can I purchase more of their modestly satisfying product?" The new eight-disc box set that accompanies Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas performs a different function: extending the wildly popular video game's concept into ours. (Rockstar Games' first attempt at this sort of market incursion—real-life consequences for drug trafficking and vehicular manslaughter—tested poorly with focus groups.) Each CD samples from a different San Andreas radio station, which means you can drive around in your hatchback blasting modern-rock Radio X without having to kill anyone in the process. It's not having your life changed by the same Shins song as Natalie Portman, but it's not bad.
For folks not looking to spice up the streets of suburban Wichita, what's compelling about the GTA box is its musical generosity. After all, this is the soundtrack for a game that manages to boil Scorsese-grade back story down to a cynical ambiance of crime-family whack jobs and white-flight urban decay. Yet each disc here plays like a mix by a particularly astute specialist: On Radio X, you get terrific boilerplate like the rain-king rush of Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage" and the Hollywood-sign stomp of Stone Temple Pilots' "Plush," but between the evergreens someone's idiosyncrasies start to show in choices like Danzig's high-romantic "Mother" and L7's grunge satire "Pretend We're Dead." K-DST, the classic-rock warhorse, accents "Free Bird" and Grand Funk Railroad with Rod Stewart's "Young Turks" and the least strident of all the Who's palsied white-funk gems, "Eminence Front." Dub-reggae K-JAH offers the Max Romeo tune Kanye West sampled for Jay-Z's "Lucifer," and rare-groove Master Sounds 98.3 connects Rob Base back to Lyn Collins' "Think (About It)." The effect is bricolage itself: You get introduced to a new act, you feel that much closer to the game, and you swoon in remembrance of the meddling narc you ran over at the mini-mart. MIKAEL WOOD
A PERFECT CIRCLE
We can comfortably assume that by releasing a covers album of eclectic protest songs at the climax of a toss-up election year, this Tool side project intended to sway the GOP-leaning element of its fan base. A genius move in that APC have built a career out of paring Tool's impenetrable proto-industrial epics into easily digestible, radio-ready finger foods; hence their reach extends past Tool's into Britneyville, making them the right vehicle for such a project. Not so genius move releasing it on fucking Election Day. Much like Eminem, who dropped "Mosh" only a week before the vote, APC waited way too long to make their statement, rendering the album obsolete on arrival. A collection of mutated classics from John Lennon, Black Flag, Marvin Gaye, and more, eMOTIVe will only endure as the record that (1) really pissed off anybody who cherishes the originals (most of whom think frontman Maynard James Keenan is the most pompous 5-footer-or-so since Napoleon), and (2) turned APC's meathead disciples on to much better music. The latter ultimately justifies this horribly titled experiment. The results—shocker!—are mixed. Multi-instrumentalist Billy Howerdel Willy Wonka–izes nearly every track into a macabre merry-go-round dirge, which doesn't make Depeche Mode's "People Are People" any less overwrought but somehow gives Lennon's beloved "Imagine" a new layer of funereal depth. The hardcore cuts (Black Flag's "Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie" and Fear's "Let's Have a War") fare best, mostly because Keenan is expert at embodying the asshole in a narrative. Perhaps a rerelease with bonus tracks should be in order for 2008—the summer of 2008. ANDREW BONAZELLI
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Despite living in England for 10 years, it was only being in an isolated agricultural town in Canada that made me learn the value of having a "local." I'd been kicked out of so many pubs that it was easier to just give up drinking, but this is the only local venue that regularly features live music, so I'm forced to behave myself. The Sunday Night Rock Jam was sponsored by the head shop, which donated T-shirts with pictures of George W. Bush captioned "Moron." The house band played an excellent version of Celtic rocker "Hair of the Dog" (the audience sang the overlapping "son of a bitch" chorus vocal), a less-good Collective Soul song, and "Just What I Needed," in which the guitarist completely fucked up the chord sequence like he was U2's Adam Clayton. Between sets they played a Van Morrison comp featuring "Gloria," which was later the subject of single-song tribute compilations like Nuggets, Monster Movie, and Live at the Witch Trials.
U2 did a song with the same title, implying that once they reached the third chord along with the truth, they'd cover the town with red paint and rename it Hell. When "Gloria" was playing in the bar, the women would do this sex dance while they were talking. U2 may have been exploiting the nonworking classes Rattle & Hum–style by packaging the new How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb like a Christmas record, but this one acknowledges that in 10 years, contemporary country music is going to sound like the Sick Lipstick or the Rapture, even though U2 invented the genre with their use of open (perfect fourth- or fifth-interval) chords, instead of using more disingenuous extended ones, and an unusual definition of "syncopation." "Yahweh" means "the unnameable," like when you're talking to dealers. It gets silly sometimes when you're on the phone and nobody wants to identify themselves for, like, 10 minutes. And "Bono" and "the Edge" sound like narco-pulp cop names.
Atomic Bomb is what U2's third album, 1983's War, would've been if they hadn't gone all the way into the mystic. Producer Steve Lillywhite once made a cruel parody of U2 called Sparkle in the Rain with Nazareth, which may have been an oblique strategy. U2 only refrain from down-tuning, Black Sabbath/Melvins–style, to respect the Damascene experience of learning to tune the normal way in the first place. The bar band's "Shine" cover didn't work because the guitar was down-tuned but the bass wasn't, so the bottom end was like U2 live. Then again, Clayton couldn't have been that terrible, as DJ Shadow still hasn't made a comedown record to match 1993's Zooropa, which is good if you're sketching out in an urban area but depressing if you're stuck in a remote semi-alpine resort town (in cryogenic off-season) you can't get out of, unless you can play it in your hot-boxed Eliminator. DAVE QUEEN
CHICKS ON SPEED
(Chicks on Speed)
Time let the air out of electroclash's inflatable babes, but Chicks on Speed are nothing if not real dolls—the world's finest! I mean, if you're in the market for this sort of thing, why not spend the extra bucks on a lady (or three, ooh la la) who can sex up consumer critique, out-rap Tina Weymouth, and make H&M look couture with a touch of her lifelike hand? Sold? That'll be 99 Cents—the Chicks' much slicker third album that bumble-boogies like an extreme-hungover Chad Hugo, all raggedy guitar flourishes and weird drum warble waves. Among the requisite pomo fembotica ("Culture Vulture" and "Sell Out"—like, who needs an Adbusters crib sheet?), there's room for a few fantastic, and not even self-effacing, nearly rock songs. "Shooting From the Hip" glitches Stereolab burbles while name checking Jeff Koons (gallery sub-lebrities sacking art stars, on par), then offending Tim Gane with "We Don't Play Guitars," which pits Peaches as ax grinder against COS's distorted dance-tech aesthetic. Their cover of Tom Tom Club's second-most-famous song, "Wordy Rappinghood," bounces where the Club original labored—the Chicks all take turns tossing lines of jet-set glamour-girl coo. An apt track, too, as getting reflexive with words of nuance and fun is how the Chicks survived. They imagined their future—not in plastics. DAPHNE CARR
JAMES T. COTTON
The Dancing Box
This is techno in butch drag. Michigander Tadd Mullinix has produced intricate melodic techno under his own name, ragga-influenced jungle as SK-1, and hip-hop with more brains than ass as Dabrye. His first full-length release under his hard-techno alias, The Dancing Box is a worthy love letter to both classic Chicago house and Detroit techno; the analog synths and rave whistles of "Buck!" bow deeply to his influences while working as a floor-filling adrenaline jolt. Keep in mind that techno sometimes positioned itself as the straight-in-every-sense cousin to disco-derived, gay-identified house, and The Dancing Box reveals itself as an amped-up, hypermasculine parody of techno. James T. Cotton borrows early techno's analog equipment and its structures, but by speeding it up and throwing its rhythms out of whack, he somehow channels the spirit of industrial music at its most aggressive instead. Take "Press Your Body": Contrary to first impressions, "Jack Your Body" it ain't. Once its pummeling rhythms grow to those of an exceptionally bloody boxing match, its vocal sample sounds less a come-on than a Nitzer Ebb–ian command to fitness for a purpose. Similarly, the extended male-vocal seduction of "That's How I Like It (Illusions)" falls flat, making for an ominous if effective track. By the time the title cut ends the album, the fight has grown to a full-scale dance-floor riot, with 303s pressed to their limit and squealing in pain. It's a tough, visceral antidote to any overdose on the metrosexuality of contemporary minimal house, and a perfect soundtrack for your next fight club or drag king revue. KRISTAL HAWKINS
Are Rilo Kiley an indie-rock band with a shake of country, or a country band doused in indie rock? The answer is both. More Adventurous came about after the band's two-year hiatus, during which Jenny Lewis dabbled with the Postal Service and Blake Sennet and Jason Boesel released an album from their other band, the Elected. In a songwriting era where it seems that everything has been said, done, and mastered before, Lewis and Sennet intertwine upbeat tunes and introspective rantings ("Portions for Foxes," the title track); the haunting "A Man/Me/Then Jim" consists of a suicide note. Sennet's singing and writing, platformed on "Ripchord," is scratchy, stripped, tongue-in-cheek, a change-up from Lewis' smooth, flowing voice. But the most enchanting song on the album is "I Never," a beautiful ballad that seems to channel Patsy Cline. Even more than on the prior Take Offs and Landings and The Execution of All Things, Lewis sings her heart out in a Loretta Lynn–esque way. Maybe Rilo Kiley will pick up a few country music fans while they're at it. MICHELLE REINDAL
World Cinema Classics
Considering "movie music" is still used as a pejorative term, you'd think film composers might work a little harder at counteracting the stereotype. Much of this collection, 17 songs from an international smorgasbord, suggests that film composition is mainly a matter of watering down local musics for global mass-market consumption. Dumbness abounds. Hans Zimmer, to take one example, says his music for A World Apart is based on "the great tradition of black South African gospel singing"; he does his usual glossy, moody synth shtick, and . . . well, South African singers don't need me to defend them. Francis Lai's hit theme from 1966's A Man and a Woman reminds us that French pop culture is barely enjoyable as camp, while Ryuichi Sakamoto's overproduced "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" (1983) reminds us that Japanese pop culture combines French cheesiness with a hyperactive interest in technology. Angelo Badalamenti's music for Jane Campion's Holy Smoke uses faintly aboriginal drumming underneath breathy female vocals and an unnecessarily empty-headed tune. The two best tracks are the most traditional one (Zhao Jipling's score for Raise the Red Lantern, a shot of Chinese opera taken straight) and the most inventively transformative one: Lim Giong's music for the Taiwanese film Millennium Mambo, an "examination of contemporary Taipei youth culture," according to the liner notes. Giong's score is rooted in the soil common to techno and spaghetti Western soundtracks; it also collages in some street sounds and an ethereal male voice. It may one day sound as dated as Nino Rota's rip-off of "Mack the Knife" for Fellini's La Dolce Vita, but right now it's fresher and more striking than anything else here. GAVIN BORCHERT