The Pop Stops review racks are overflowing with great new releases, as record companies strive to pack the record store shelves with wares for the coming holiday season. The following are thumbnail reviews of some of the more interesting offerings I've heard over the past month:
Ween has to be about the most perversely odd band on the planet. Every album they release skewers as well as celebrates a variety of pop styles and The Mollusk is no different. Recorded in large part on a beach (and begun prior to their C&W album 12 Golden Country Greats) it includes a batch of songs that run the gamut from '70s progressive rock and ballad nods to nautical knock-offs. "I'm Dancing In The Show Tonight" leads things off with a Tin Pan Alley catchy piano melody and warped, octave shifting vocals. It's funny, bizarre and left me humming it at inopportune moments for days.
The title track is a '70s style balladic hymn to a mollusk that gets snapped up by a kid on a beach. "The Blarney Stone" features a foul pirate drawl and "I'll Be Your Jonny On The Spot" sounds like spastic Devo. "Mutilated Lips" is another studio effect laden experiment that sounds as if the Ween boys have been reading a bit of H.P. Lovecraft horror. And just when it's all getting a bit too bizarre, they toss in a picture perfect George Harrison-esque ballad in "It's Gonna Be (Alright)" which doesn't seem to have any humor, just homage in it.
The Mollusk is a great bit of slimey musical fun.
Violins and Rock 'n' Roll:
It's unusual for me to review even one disc spotlighting a violinist, but this month I've been impressed with two different artists' releases:
Mixing up classical violin training with funky beats, crunchy, driving rock guitar riffs, and high ethereal vocals in the camp of Jane Siberry, Kate Bush and Tori Amos, Haydn, a touring violinist for Kitaro and Jon Anderson, has created a scintillating album of exotic complexity and breadth. This is one of the most diverse and inventive discs I've heard all year — and I'm looking forward to keeping it near the CD player for some time to come.
More laidback than Haydn, Ponce offers an album perfect for firelight and contemplation. Another siren-smooth vocalist, she sings in a warmer, lower register than Haydn, and prefers an electronically enhanced Jean Luc Ponty violin sound to Haydn's more classical, acoustic instrument. This will appeal to fans of worldbeat New Age music as well as progressive rock artists Annie Haslam and Renaissance. The gentle rhythms of "Summer" flow across the ear like the slow lapping of ocean waves, and the instrumental caress of Ponce's violin on "Contigo" is simply breathtaking. Highly recommended.
Ska 'n' pop:
With The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and No Doubt scoring radio play with rock 'n' ska tunes, are we in for a new trend in ska-based pop?
It Means Everything
With wildly sliding horns and a ska beat this seven-piece band led by a smooth-voiced but exuberant female singer begs comparisons to Gwen Stefani and No Doubt But Save Ferris sticks closer to pop-ska than No Doubt's breakthrough disc. And amid a solid batch of body shaking songs they offer a cover of an '80s hit that has been just begging to be remade — "Come On Eileen." This is one of the best party records of '97.
Dance Hall Crashers
Honey, I'm Homely
Two years ago, No Doubt released an album that would slowly work its way into the top of the pop charts with its wildly gyrating mix of pop melodies, ska and Southwestern rhythms. At the same time, Dance Hall Crashers debuted with an even more exciting mix of ska, punk and pop that remained sadly overlooked. If anyone clues in to Dance Hall Crashers followup, they'll no doubt label the band as No Doubt knock-offs. But the dual harmony vocals of Elyse Rogers and Karina Denike actually owe little to Gwen Stefani, and the band's frantic pounding riffs leave No Doubt in the dust. While coming up a little short of the quality of their debut, over the course of 15 songs, Honey, I'm Homely proves itself a savvy, saucy disc of percolating pop.
File this one between Elastica and Echobelly (too bad they didn't give themselves an E name, huh?) London-based Linoleum features a distinctly British sounding female lead singer, who sing-speaks over occasionally punky, mostly light alternative rock tracks. If you like either of those E bands, you'll like this catchy, if more laidback disc.
I'll never think of most of these songs as having anything to do with sports, but EMI-Capitol has issued a two disc set of Greatest Sports Rock and Jams Vol. 2. Whatever memories these songs dredge up for you — as sockhop, beach party or Monday Night Football theme music — there are some great "party" songs included. Billy Idol's "Mony Mony" leads off, followed by Technotronic's "Pump Up The Jam," Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and Stray Cats' "Rock This Town." Also included are Young MC's "Bust A Move, The Surfaris' "Wipe Out, and Power Station's "Some Like It Hot." There are also tracks from The Romantics, Wang Chung, Gary Glitter, Snap!, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and Todd Rundgren...Elektra/4AD has released a two-CD set from The Pixies, one of the '80s most influential alternative rock acts. Death To The Pixies is a bit overdue — bassist Kim Deal has released albums with The Breeders and The Amps since The Pixies died, and leader Black Francis has released a couple solo discs as Frank Black over the past couple years. Better late than never. The loose garage rock energy of this band is represented on disc one of the set in 17 studio songs including their popular "Debaser," "Here Comes Your Man" and "This Monkey's Gone To Heaven." Those songs and 18 more are also included on disc two, a loud, live concert recording from 1990...The soundtrack to the new movie I Know What You Did Last Summer includes a cross section of modern rock artists performing original and cover songs. Toad The Wet Sprocket offer a brash run-through of The Beatles' "Hey Bulldog" and Kula Shaker conquer the classic '60s anthem "Hush" (once also covered by Deep Purple.) Type O Negative perform a sinister sounding take on Seals & Croft's "Summer Breeze." There are also tracks from The Offspring, Green Apple Quick Step, L7, Soul Asylum, Korn, Our Lady Peace and more...Jazz and Clint Eastwood fans will want to seek out Eastwood After Hours: A Night of Jazz Live at Carnegie Hall. The two disc set offers a selection of jazz greats which Eastwood, in his great love and support of the genre, has featured over the years in his films. Included among the ensemble players are Eastwood's own son, Kyle Eastwood, Joshua Redman, and Thelonious Monk, Jr.