T.A.T.U. "200 KM/H IN THE WRONG LANE"
Their appeal is based almost solely on watching two underage girls make
out with each other. If that doesn't float your boat -- if you're smart
enough to see through a marketing manipulation -- the music has its limited
appeal, too. Dance beats, some lyrics in Russian, those leering pictures
in the CD booklet -- something for everyone. None of this is quite clever
enough to rise to the level of guilty pleasure. But the Smiths cover beats
karaoke, and by reprising several songs in their native tongue, they at
least solve the filler problem in a creative way. B-
KAITO "BAND RED"
Slightly punky and slightly unhinged, they also sound just slightly foreign.
(If you squint your ears just right, Niki Colk yelps sorta like Bjork.)
"Noise pop," or whatever you want to call it, is filled with
amateurs hiding behind their dissonance. This U.K. group, on the other
hand, has actual hooks and superb moments -- the opening cut, the instrumental
before the finale. The two highest highlights are pushed near the end
as well, and it's reassuring how different they are from one another.
"A.S.A. to Accuracy" obliterates the world in convincing fashion.
Meanwhile, "3am" is drowsy and soothing, picking up the pieces
as the CD winds to a close. B+
EARLIMART "EVERYONE DOWN HERE"
You don't have to scan the liner notes to know they're down with Grandaddy,
Lou Barlow, and the Radar Brothers. Just listen to the music, which mostly
aims for "Return of the Sophtware Slump." When Aaron Espinoza
isn't cheating off of Jason Lytle's final exam, he does wonders with moody
sound and high lonesome meditation. But then that only makes you remember
what a great record "And the Surrounding Mountains" is. This
band is chock full of promise but needs to lose its allusions. B+
RADIOHEAD "HAIL TO THE THIEF"
After coming to terms with the fact that they'll never top that album,
let alone try to do it again, I decided, reluctantly, to just go ahead
and listen to the album they opted to make. A novel idea, and it turned
out to have huge rewards. Despite the objections of grumps like me, this
thing does, in fact, have actual songs on it -- not as easily detectable
and indelible as on that album, but real songs nonetheless. "Kid
A" and "Amnesiac" were, respectively, the pros and cons
of trying to escape your destiny; this record feels like owning up to
your legacy while trying to subvert and enrich it at the same time. They're
full of themselves as always, but here they back it up with an honest
stab at the zeitgeist. "I don't know why you bother," "We're
rotten fruit," and "Drag him out the window" aren't just
the opening lines of songs -- they nicely sum up your mindset most days.
I dislike the album title simply because the thief doesn't deserve to
be immortalized by Radiohead. But maybe we should thank Bush for distracting
this band from their laptops a little. After all, those eerie handclaps
on "We Suck Young Blood" are sounds made by human beings --
angry, ambitious, with worthwhile things to say about the world you and
I inhabit. If it doesn't approach that album, then at least it
comes as close as anything they've attempted. A-
He's either shoring up his orchestral beauty or falling into studio obsession.
But if he can keep from turning boring and pretty, or going all Brian
Wilson on us, Jason Lytle will emerge as a major talent -- a normal dude
who renders dread and love in epic fashion without making a big to-do.
That's part of his problem, naturally -- he doesn't make concept albums
or in any way announce his ideas portentously. All he has is terrific
music that mirrors the songs' emotions perfectly. The one about a girlfriend
long gone resonates with ache, longing, and acceptance. The ones about
getting out of the record business are unresolved, drunk on what-if. As
a lyricist, he writes obliquely and teases you with possibilities. His
band's soundscapes fill in the gaps. As long as the outside world continues
to interest him, he'll keep making albums as good as this. A-
THE SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The World Champions of the National Basketball Association. Swell.
Still doesn't make them any more exciting or grand, huh? The New York
Giants of professional hoops. The socks-and-underwear Christmas presents
of sports. Their two most exciting playoff games where when the Dallas
Mavericks came back to beat them in Game Five and when Robert Horry almost
beat them in a different Game Five. I'd join the Lakers myself next season
if I thought it would help beat these walking asterisks. B
STEELY DAN "THE LAST MALL"
This is the new song from Steely Dan. Even if you haven't heard it yet,
you already have. And you'll already know what you think of it, too. In
fact, you could probably hum it right now and get pretty close to the
actual melody. Which is entirely the problem. B