Petitioning the Empty Sky
When Forever Comes Crashing
(both Equal Vision)
There are crowded shows, sold-out shows, flagrantly oversold sold-out shows, and shows where you question the venue's commitment to letting the audience depart with all vital organs intact. Last October's Converge show at Graceland (currently El Corazon) unquestionably fell on the latter end of that scale, yet one can't help but think that every night of the Massachusetts metalcore pioneers' tour was similarly perilous. And as frustrating as the performance might've been for the shorter and scrawnier in attendance, it couldn't have been more appropriate; of all the emotions that the Converge discography inspires in their frothing cultist fan base, complacence and serenity log in approximately 10,000th and 10,001st.
On the heels of their latest acclaimed full-length, You Fail Me—a challenging complement to 2001 pinnacle Jane Doe that many superfan skeptics thought impossible—Equal Vision has smartly rereleased the now-quartet's previous two albums, 1997's Petitioning the Empty Sky and 1998's When Forever Comes Crashing. The dual reissue is more logical that you'd think; the two albums are indelibly linked for exhibiting the genre-twisting potential that the groundbreaking Jane and Fail fulfilled. Both discs are remastered, which should finally satiate the many who bitch about the originals' swampy, impenetrable production quality, courtesy of Brian McTernan and Mike West (Petitioning) and Today is the Day ringleader Steve Austin (Forever). Not only that, but each album contains bonus demos and CD-ROM add-ons. Not only that, but there's extended, nuanced slipcover/inner-sleeve artwork courtesy of vocalist Jacob Bannon and Isis frontman Aaron Turner. So basically, if you're a completist/techhead/artcore snob (i.e., the target demo), these reissues are absolutely essential.
I can live with my original, scratched-to-shit versions; the extra tracks aren't really the appeal here, merely roughshod versions of cuts from ensuing records. That said, you've gotta love Petitioning's new finale, a deliciously sloppy take of "Love as Arson" that implodes just before the five-minute mark when Bannon mumbles, "I hit myself in the head with the mike stand and I'm bleeding. Like a sieve." (Forever likewise finishes with an alternate take of Jane's frantic "Bitter and Then Some.") No, the real fun in revisiting late-'90s Converge is hearing the compositions evolve with increasing recklessness and, yes, sophistication. They still had soft spots for the occasional trad-hardcore breakdown or sing-along, but guitarist Kurt Ballou peppered even those with virulent, mathy squalls that predated a generation of imitators. Bannon is the ideal mad-dog mouthpiece for his Armageddon figures, screeching venomous bons motslike "Hallowed be who art in heaven, I refuse to call that fucker by name." The message of these reissues is clear: Congested as they may appear, there's always room in the black pews for new converts. ANDREW BONAZELLI
See You Next Tuesday
The formula here is simple enough: two self-styled N.Y.C. club Svengalis, Matt Goias and Fancy, with cartoonish dollar signs in their eyes create an "intensely stupid female fronted rap group . . . [singing] retarded dance floor bangers" (from their bio), a concept easily sold to Tommy Boy. Three girl vocalists recruited from hard-times early-'00s club scene later, and boom! Party kids loved the '03 semihits "Cameltoe" and "Hey Mami" and expected never to hear from them again. But See You Next Tuesday (correct abbreviation via Sex and the City) is an album of absolutely groomed, overproduced hip-hop-lite touching off every trend Beyoncé got two steps near over the past three years. And it's gooood. "Keep It Up" celebrates the fair winners of "Bring It On," cheerleading over sneak-squeaks, hand claps, and a marching band à la "Lose My Breath." Taking Alan Lomax porch recordings of square beats, blues harmonica, and tinny piano to the Brooklyn area code, "Seven One Eight" is pure Moby circa Play, only here, less is curiously more. The reefer-free Atlanta dark synth bass moves quick on "Feet and Hands," where lyrics about how Cat Hartwell, Jessibel Suthiwong, and Belinda Lovell "always want to punch people wearing Von Dutch" seem like the men behind the curtain getting snarky about their compliance in the near past. I mean, how can a band called FannyPack throw the first stone? Luckily, these self-destructive moments are few and fast among sophisticated big bass reggae ("Fire Fire"), snaky fake house-hop hybrids ("You Gotta Know"), and all manner of the near familiar. Once again, sinister intentions make perfect pop. Long live the laboratory! DAPHNE CARR
German women and IDM share a lot of the same stereotypes—that they're cold, harsh paragons of morality, obsessed with technology and efficiency, bred for the privacy of the home rather than public enjoyment. Neither is supposed to be any fun at all. Few people actually believe that crap, of course. But two new compilations, each celebrating eight years of an electronic music label run by a woman in Berlin, have a ball ripping those stereotypes to shreds anyway. In the video for Barbara Morgenstern's "We're All Gonna Fucking Die," included as a CD-ROM bonus track on the Monika imprint's Monika Force, the artist boogies, cartwheels, somersaults, and air-guitars to her stuttering clicks and cuts. "Look at me!" she seems to say. "I can be a silly girlie-girl and produce music that makes design students salivate! Screw you!"
That defiant playfulness courses through this catalog-spanning disc, compiled by label head Gudrun Gut (formerly of Malaria! and Einstürzende Neubauten). It opens with a trio of irresistibly twee love songs: Chica and the Folder's cover of Brian Eno's "I'll Come Running," which sounds like it's being played by an orchestra of windup toys, followed by a trip-hoppy tale of bored yuppies from Figurine (aka Jimmy Tamborello of the Postal Service's other swoony synth-pop band), then Florida's "The Girl on the Escalator"—basically a craigslist "Missed Connections" post set to dinky bells and weepy strings. The rest of the 19-song set doesn't flow so seamlessly. Manuela Krause and Pole's slinky rendition of the German standard "Mein Freund der Baum" leads into Morgenstern's remix of "Burka Blue," a nursery-rhyme-like song by the Burka Band, allegedly the first all-girl rock band in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Cobra Killer's ecstatically trashy, Southern Culture on the Skids–sampling "L.A. Shaker" sits right next to Masha Qrella's calm, hypnotic "Hypersomnia." Monika Force successfully showcases its label's diversity, but it makes for a particularly jarring mix.
Camping, the historical survey of Berlin label BPitch Control, avoids that problem by collecting tracks that mostly stick to variations on the same four-to-the-floor beat. BPitch boss Ellen Allien's three selections stick to the icy microhouse that has become her trademark, but the compilation also sticks to its title and offers much in the way of campy goodness. Kiki sashays through the Giorgio Moroder flourishes of "Luv Sikk" and the goth tribute "The End of the World." Sylvie Marks & Hal9000 do their best Arthur Russell disco imitation on "We Electric" and throw a banjo loop and some faux-tribal drums into "Blütenspaß." Sascha Funke covers Bros.' 1988 teenybopper hit "When Will I Be Famous," and in the disc's most hilarious moment, Housemeister samples deceased Kid Rock sideman Joe C. on "Do You Wanna Funk." To which you'll answer, "Hell, yes." AMY PHILLIPS
Cocaine, donkey shows, 12-year-olds, cigars—even when they weren't busy buying the whole damn country out from under the crumbling Batista regime, the American businessmen who infested '40s Cuba were far too distracted to even consider playing impresario. Consequently, we missed out on one of the African diaspora's most vibrant musical interludes. Mambo had been around for over a decade when Perez Prado's 1951 U.S. tour sparked a belated dance craze. Antecedent son waited even longer to find an ear on these shores; most of America's mainstream exposure to the Afro-European blend that first captured Cuba's heart in the '20s dates from Buena Vista Social Club's 1996 debut and after. The Buena Vista mission gives our perception of the tiny island nation an extra kick in the ass with Mirabel, BVSC trumpet titan Manuel Guajiro's solo debut and tribute to Arsenio Rodriguez, a descendent of slaves blinded by a horse's kick at 7 who, as a composer and bandleader, revolutionized Cuban popular music by beefing up the standard son ensemble with conga drum—previously shunned as being overly African—as well as piano and an extra trumpet or two. The expanded lineup—known as conjunto—opened the world of mambo to Rodriguez, Prado, Machito, and sundry other innovators. At 71, Guajiro is far too wise to go out like Maynard Ferguson; his solos provide color and heat rather than histrionics. Plus, Rodriguez played the tres (a cousin of the 12-string guitar and mandolin with three pairs of strings); hence, tresero Papi Oviedo has the biggest shoes to fill. Midtempo opener "El Rincón Caliente" finds him paying homage to the master—and offering revelations galore—with a boldly articulated exercise in virtuosity that recalls Marc Ribot's playing at its most incendiary and elegant. ROD SMITH
VARIOUS ARTISTS/MIXED BY ANDREW WEATHERALL
With a track list like this, you'd think London DJ/ producer and Two Lone Swordsmen member Andrew Weatherall wanted us to forget all about the '90s, and his central role in putting dance music on the map and uniting it with British rock. Two rediscovered slices of classic '80s electro start the disc: Sexual Harassment's "I Need a Freak" and Egyptian Lover's "Freak-a-Holic." Weatherall then moves on to an assortment of recent house and techno tracks by both his long-in-the-tooth peers and some young'uns. Tracks from Jesper Dahlbäck and Steve Bug sweep away the bubblier house and darken the atmosphere to set the stage for the robot riot of Metope's "Second Skin," quickly quelled by the quirky pop of Miwon's "Brother Mole." The archaeology lesson resumes with Kerrier District's remix of Black Devil's 1978 "Timing, Forget the Timing" and a vintage equipment workout by one of the Chicken Lips recording as Emperor Machine. The Two Lone Swordsmen mix of Ricardo Villalobos' "Dexter" promises a return to the 21st century until you actually listen to it: Turns out Mr. Weatherall and partner Keith Tenniswood have delivered a full-on cover of the song, done in the style of Joy Division, no less. (Try suggesting that if you're ever bored at an Interpol show.) Technova's surprisingly saccharine cover of Joy Division's "Atmosphere" appropriately closes the mix. If you're looking for Weatherall's Happy Mondays remixes or evidence of his collaboration with Primal Scream, you'll have ask Mr. Peabody for the keys to the Way Back Machine. KRISTAL HAWKINS
VARIOUS ARTISTS/MIXED BY JOE RANSOM
When do mixes succeed more directly—when they act as testament to a particular DJ's mixing skills or when they shed a certain necessary light on a burgeoning scene? At first, it looks like the 20th installation of the FabricLive mix series, helmed by Fabric regular Joe Ransom, hits on both levels. But once you get past the well-constructed way Ransom streamlines the mix's ascension from down-tempo, bass-heavy hip-hop into heavy electro, the feeling eventually sinks in that the first third is merely foreplay. The two big-name buzz-clip lures here are M.I.A.'s "Galang"—sandwiched brilliantly between Luv Lite Massive's spare buzz-bomb ragga "Bun De Wikkid" and the planet-rocking Stanton Warriors remix of the Nextmen's arcade anthem "High Score"—and Dizzee Rascal's "Stand Up Tall," which sends shivers up the spine when that familiar boop-boo-weep begins to crest over the coda of Cane Matto's breakbeat burner "Ain't Nuttin to It! (Part Two)." But to get to the live, dirty, flip-the-fuck-out electro/grime hype segment, there's 15 opening minutes of understimulating U.K. rap to nod your head halfheartedly along with. Yeah, the dancehall-style flow of Rodney P rocks well over rudie hip-hop on "The Nice Up," and Ty's strikingly gruff-voiced "So You Want Morre? (Refix)" would be the best Timbaland rip-off on the charts if U.S. radio broke it. But on a comp end-loaded with evidence of the U.K.'s vibrant grime and electro scenes and surrounded by moribund post–Ninja Tune corn (the first track includes samples of a square narrator instructing listeners on how to put their turntable together, fer chrissakes), they sound like the last great gasps before the future finally takes over. NATE PATRIN
DROP THE LIME
This Means Forever
I read somewhere about breakcore: "not for romantics." The style's current posse—Venetian Snares, Sickboy, and granddaddy DJ Scud—push the bpm, break apart the samples, and contort the hip-hop-generated beats until all blood boils without supplying the feet. As a genre, it came from the late-'90s moment when drum and bass and rave either went mental or missing. The liner notes of This Means Forever shout out "all the raver/junglists who called it quits in '98/'99," when, at age 17, Luca Venezia held it down with the faithful few. Now a Bard College grad and musique concrètefan boy with a handful of raw 12-inches, mad ears, snippets of sentimentality, and even a sense of humor, he records as Drop the Lime. While Venezia is currently bringing the lo-fi of grime stateside as promoter of N.Y.C.'s Bangers and Mash party, his full-length debut is pristine, clean-cut, and almost wide-eyed, if not exactly innocent. Most of Forever's 17 tracks feature remembered rave-anthem lyric fragments sung with a paranoid, swooping attack, a coked-up but conscious tribute to Fugazi's Guy Picciotto. Digi-dark bass lines slink throughout—on "Glassy Eyes," as industrial panic laced with girlfriend MC Minty's whisper, or as power-downs under discordant doubled vocals on "Soundboy," or turned into rubber synth-flutes under a hopped-up Fellini moment, "Amrcrd Gold." Then, after a lull, is "Rad Girl Killy," a track so wickedly cut up, ridiculously sub–bass heavy, gnarled, and broken, it reminds me why I left the jungle room in the first place—I couldn't move as fast as kids. How much faster can the kids get, I wonder? DAPHNE CARR