Abe Vigoda, Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere, and Patti Smith and Kevin Shields

No, not that Abe Vigoda. (Duh.)

Abe VigodaSkeleton(Post Present Medium)Abe Vigoda wants to be Animal Collective, and Skeleton makes this plainly obvious. "Lantern Lights" and "Animal Ghosts," in particular, could be rough demos from Strawberry Jam. Both tracks bounce with those same Romper Room yelps, neon tribal beats, and Looney Tunes melodies. But what the L.A. quartet want and what they can actually pull off are vastly different.Despite early dalliances with what can only be tagged "twee noise," Animal Collective have always been whimsical indie kids dedicated to pure pop in terms of composition and production. If the boys bust some gnarly freakout, which they're prone to do, it's almost always in service of a suntanned tune inspired by the Beach Boys circa '68. Abe Vigoda, by contrast, is the child of a different West Coast tradition: the chaotic hardcore and freak rock of Deerhoof, Total Shutdown, Antioch Arrow, Black Flag, and so on, all the way back to Captain Beefheart. They don't lull fans into California dreams; they keep them agonizingly awake, employing laborious anti-grooves and sonic claustrophobia.Had Abe Vigoda abandoned its sound while chasing Animal Collective's tail, then Skeleton would be insufferable—a total fish-out-of-water experience. The band, however, wisely retrofitted its deeper musical heritage with current interests. Of course, fusing such divergent aesthetics makes Skeleton a schizoid listening experience. But that appears to be the band's goal as punk tricksters (there's a lot of them in L.A. these days). All the good stuff on Skeleton that sounds like Strawberry Jam disarms you with promises of good-time pop music. And once Abe Vigoda knows your shields have been lowered, it then pummels your noggin like a special-ed spazz after three cans of Jolt and a Charleston Chew. If joy-equals-pain is your bag, it doesn't get much better than Skeleton. JUSTIN F. FARRAR Steve Cropper & Felix CavaliereNudge It Up a Notch(Stax)At its best and most commercial, Stax Records combined earnest experimentation with a rigorous, down-home blues perspective. That air of sober discipline and workmanlike flair carries over into Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere's Nudge It Up a Notch, which carries the Stax imprint (Concord Music Group recently revived the label) but was cut in Nashville. With Jon Tiven joining the two stars behind the boards, the results skirt revivalism in spots. But the eager, slightly jazz-inflected voice of former Rascals singer Cavaliere massages the material, while longtime Stax maestro Cropper's guitar makes dirty slurs and high, bright comments on the action. "The coffee wasn't on/And you were gone," Cavaliere sings in the opener, "One of Those Days"; his organ answers, while the background vocals that threaten to turn Nudge into a modern New Orleans R&B record fill out the arrangement. Meanwhile, instrumentals such as "Full Moon Tonight" display Cropper's genius for structural guitar; he also makes something out of the trills that dominate his solo on "Full Moon," which Stanton Moore ought to take notice of next time he's looking for material. You could complain that this pairing comes across slick in places, but these pros have found a way to strain the grease and keep the flavor. EDD HURT Patti Smith and Kevin ShieldsThe Coral Sea(Pask)My Bloody Valentine mastermind Kevin Shields and punk priestess Patti Smith undressed for their collaborative CD, The Coral Sea. Shields breaks free from his studio fixations, which typically find him laboring over things such as the color of microphone filters; Smith bares her soul as she's never done before. Culled from two live performances in London in 2005 and 2006, The Coral Sea is Smith's tribute to friend and collaborator Robert Mapplethorpe. As she reads a poem she penned for the late photographer (who shot the striking cover of Smith's debut, Horses), Smith's incantatory lines recall her early spoken-word opuses. Possessed by emotion, she bleakly details Mapplethorpe's battle with AIDS. Meanwhile, Shields remains fascinated by the concept of sound, shifting moods, and changing textures; his guitar and effects run the gamut from eye-glazingly hypnotic to knifelike stark. At times, his sonic flourishes transform already visceral moments into something profoundly personal. It's like eavesdropping on the private wake of somebody you don't know and watching as friends and family passionately lament the departed. RYAN FOLEY

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