Also: Radio Pyongyang and John Peel: A Tribute.


Tender Buttons


If a time capsule of quality modern art were vaulted into space, Gertrude Stein's 1914 poetry volume Tender Buttons is the kind of book only a real jerk would include. Like teaching a foreign exchange student to proclaim something meaningless, Stein's images—of a rose, for instance: "a cool red rose and a pink cut pink, a collapse and a sold hole, a little less hot"—are education mostly in the melody and cadence of words. Stein's automatic writing device also generated the lyrics for Broadcast's fourth Warp release, which vocalist Trish Keenan and multi-instrumentalist James Cargill composed à deux (though they still perform live with a band). Like its namesake, Tender Buttons is surreal, playful, and mysterious. Analog drum machines and ancient Moogs replace the masterful live drums and ambient layers of the full band on Haha Sound and The Noise Made by People. By plucking away these petals, Keenan's rich, languorous voice becomes the center of Broadcast's spinning flower. Repetition and alliteration ("Close up to me/Up close to my anatomy/Close up to me/ Up close to my autonomy") slice the shortwave radio buzz of "Corporeal," and on "America's Boy," Keenan volleys a deserved dose of ambiguity seemingly toward our most famous Texan ("Gun me down with Yankee power"). Broadcast straddle tenderness and novelty exceptionally well by icing each song—even the Mary Poppins–esque "Michael A Grammar"—in the same psychedelic flavor. Keenan has said, "Language just wants to be understood . . . if you throw words together randomly, they naturally make sense." From ambassadors of an era that's hard to pin down, Tender Buttons would make as much sense in the capsule as anything else. RACHEL SHIMP


Radio Pyongyang: Commie Funk and Agit Pop From the Hermit Kingdom

(Sublime Frequencies)

Imagine a Van Dyke Parks parody album co-sponsored by Kraft and GE: General Electric drops lucre and lightbulbs; the pseudo-food leviathan brings the cheese. Kim Jong Il knows, there's no lack of the latter on Radio Pyongyang, much of it pure Velveeta. Not that the 23rd installment of Sublime Frequencies' global- airwaves safari doesn't sit well in the eardrum; the album's panoramic view of North Korea's broadcast landscape reveals more about the country in an hour than most other sources could have given up in a week. You want conservative? Wholesome? Uplifting? How about one grand totalitarian package, complete with propaganda in English? Understated oompah in a vaguely equestrian mode provides the pulse for most of the album's folk, pop, and patriotic selections; cautious infusions of Disney-grade rock and disco (see: "Commie Funk") add a hint of Western-style spice. Given the country's continental pre-eminence in amphetamine manufacture, Radio Pyongyang's unremitting perkiness is hardly surprising. Nor is the absence of anything remotely resembling a U.S.-style rebel stance, although SF honcho Alan Bishop's subversively edited "Motherland Megamix" might remind seasoned thrill seekers of early Nurse With Wound. ROD SMITH


John Peel: A Tribute

(Warner, U.K.)

Anyone who's heard John Peel at work—live or taped, on promo-only copies of his 1993 U.S. college radio series Peel Out in the States found in used bins or on 2002's FabricLive 07, the only official release the legendary BBC Radio 1 DJ ever compiled during his lifetime—will be familiar with an eclecticism so absurd it pushed past itself into logic. The man was a human version of a stuffed-full iPod set on shuffle, hardly perfect but usually compelling and always surprising. Those descriptions apply just as well to this two-CD compilation, but in less interesting ways. For one thing, Peel may have been a fierce endorser of guitar rock, but it wasn't all he cared about by any stretch of the imagination—over half of FabricLive 07 was given over to African music (Maloko), electronica (MC Det, Christian Smith & John Selway, Elementz of Noize), reggae (Derrick Morgan, Culture), funk (Act 1, Trouble Funk), and more. A Tribute, though, is thoroughly dominated by "white boys with guitars" that Peel mocked as much as he admired. Peel adored every one of the 40 tracks on display here, and most of them are pretty great. But if the set's sequencing is no less bumpy than an average Peel program, it's nowhere near as inspired, a trotting-out of names obvious to Peel fans as boring as a Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums list. Only when Orbital's rave anthem "Chime" segues into Elmore James' classic "Dust My Blues" do we get much of a glimpse into the open ears that made the DJ great—it's the kind of one-two that could have opened up a classic compilation. Instead, it ends this one. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

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