MUSIC REVIEWS: DJ Signify, Lithops, Pavement, Bottle Rocket Short Film Soundtrack
DJ Signify‘s Of Cities is like a soundtrack to a movie that has not yet been made, one that features a rogue post-modern industrial hero type doing his ‘me against the world’ on this largely instrumental release. The album sounds like the product of its named environment, a cold, steely city where neither sun nor stars show up and no one ever knows what to expect around the next corner. The album abruptly switches from darker, dark to semi-dark shades like subway travel. Aesop Rock rhymes on a few tracks and on “Low Tide,” he churns out a tough monologue to city living and working in a steady shadowy turmoil. On most other tracks the instrumentation merely offers you a palette at which to paint your own alternative yet darkened city-dweller scene. “Bollywood Babies,” gives way to more fantasy over heavy bass beats and an almost James Bond-esque whirl of orchestral violins. “Delight to the Sadist,” featuring Matt Kelly begins with heavy 70s bass thumps over a tightly ticking drum machine. “Costume Kids” is lighter and more freeform with a techno, slightly alternative rock leaning. Almost suffocating the man against machine scenario coupled with downtrodden ambient groove tracks, “Of Cities” romanticizes and strips down city life and portrays an underground grit still anyone can get lost in.
To attempt to define Lithops’ Ye Viols! as electronica or dance music would be an unjust oversimplification of a collection of dense, digital compositions that reveal more to the listener and become more palatable to the tender sensibilities of the ear with each passing play. The record is a selection of audio pieces by Mouse on Mars mastermind Jan St. Werner, originally utilized as the soundtracks for various visual art exhibitions. Even removed from their intended installation spaces, the recordings maintain both intensity and effectiveness. “Sebquenz” manages to weave into its web of chaos some genuinely catchy grooves, while the ambient, metallic nightmare of “Penrose Ave” segues seamlessly into the trippy spatial collage of “Inductech.” Buzzing and beeping like a cacophonic boardwalk arcade consumed by a robot orchestra, “Handed” may be jarring at first, but is ultimately a bizarre highlight of the album. It’s likely that at least some of the tracks – “Apps 1” and “Apps 2,” for example – could benefit from being experienced in their original context, but it doesn’t make them any less compelling when taken on their own terms.
There’s been a lot of ink spilled on Pavement, so reviewing a reissue, even of a less-legendary album like Brighten the Corners can be a daunting task. At the time, many pundits found Brighten the Corners a solid if unspectacular effort from the seldom disappointing slacker gods of indie rock.
Brighten holds up to scrutiny, especially after listening through the last 11 years worth of albums by pretenders to Pavement’s ironic throne. “Stereo” still shines brighter than the rest, but the whole album plays well, with the possible exception of the intriguingly titled but lack-lusterly executed “Date W/ IKEA.”
Because it’s a reissue, The Nicene Creedence edition is accompanied by 32 songs worth of archival material. This daunting trove of mostly previously unreleased tracks will appeal to Pavement obsessives and completists. Though the occasional alternate take can shed some light on a song, the thrill here lies in giving the old album another listen, and reveling in the ageless beauty of songs like “Type Slowly.”
Wes Anderson is well known for using eclectic, off-beat classic rock tracks in his films but with the release of the Bottle Rocket short film soundtrack, audiences can appreciate his taste in classic jazz as well. The 13 minute black and white film featuring Owen and Luke Wilson was made in the early 90’s and led to a feature film version, giving Wes his break in Hollywood and the soundtrack includes eight terrific jazz tunes. The album includes a wide variation of classics ranging from well known songs like Vince Guaraldi’s “Skating” (famous from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”) and Sonny Rollins improve of “Old Devil Moon” to “Stevie,” a momentous collaboration between Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. The soundtrack is almost like a beginners guide to old school jazz with its extreme scope of quick, bright tracks mixing together greats like clarinetist Artie Shaw, drummer Horace Silver, and saxophonist Zoot Sims. The collection is fun and upbeat with playful melodies and complex percussion. The soundtrack is an easy listen and the album’s release by Fantasy records coincides with the Criterion Collection’s release of the short film along with the feature film in a new DVD set.