Record Review Floccipaucinihilipilification

The Mary Onettes: The Mary Onettes (Labrador) LISTEN HERE

Sweden’s Mary Onettes are not afraid to admit their love for the dark years of the early eighties, when ratty bangs hung over thickly black-lined eyes and all the cool kids wanted to be British and miserably filled with existential angst. The Mary Onettes website says the album “contains 10 great songs that reminds you of the great 80’s”, and although their English may be a bit broken, they do not lie. These boys want to stop the world and melt with you. They want to take on you. They’re lost in a forest, all alone. However, it’s done with a complete lack of irony or snark, and they’ve written a fantastic set of lush, memorable songs to wrap their mesh and lace around. With repeated listens, it rises above mere eighties pastiche and suddenly seems so here and now, so essential, so captivating, so important. “Void” is a devastatingly perfect pop song, stirring up emotions I hadn’t felt since 1987. “Pleasure Zone” and “The Laughter” lift the trademark glacial synth sound of The Cure’s Faith album, and “Lost” is totally Ringwald-worthy. Blame it on Abba, but there’s something intrinsically irresistible to me about pop singers with Swedish accents, and Philip Ekström’s voice is dreamy and soothing. I'm fully smitten with The Mary Onettes, it is no doubt the best debut album of 2007 so far. Rating 9/10

Paul Hartnoll: The Ideal Condition (ACP) LISTEN HERE He was half of groundbreaking British electro duo Orbital, who had a string of mostly brilliant albums in the ‘90’s. I’m honestly not too in love with this solo debut, it sounds like he’s trying to “pull a Moby.” In other words, it’s a mix of synthetic musical movie wallpaper with remotely classical influences and a mess of guest vocalists adding up to a semi-pleasant record which does nothing particularly groundbreaking. It tries to be a moody late-night classic, but doesn’t hold enough magic and falls mostly flat. Lead track “Haven’t We Met Before” sounds like the opening theme to a cheesy made-for-TV movie starring Teri Hatcher as a nun with a murderous secret. The Cure’s Robert Smith phones in his vocals for the single “Please”, continuing his run of lyrically limp guest turns on various mediocre techno tracks. If a cliche like “you know you got me” is the best hook he can come up with, no wonder we’ve had to wait so long for a new Cure album. To be fair, if it actually were a new Cure song, everyone would probably be rejoicing their return to electro-pop, and it's light years better than his guest yowl on Junior Jack's "Da Hype", the nadir of his entire career. Rating: 4/10

Ulrich Schnauss: Quicksand Memory EP (Domino) LISTEN HERE Wowee zowie, Captain Electricity! I always admired the earlier Ulrich Schnauss records, but never became too absorbed in them. The woozy, gauzy guitars and oceanic electronics were nice, but I kept waiting for something to really go off and it never did. On Quicksand Memory, his first release in nearly four years, Mr. Schnauss makes things go off with a brain-rattling bang. His main influence was always the opaque swirl of Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine, but until now he never managed to be as massively titanic, or (in my opinion) as clever as those bands. Opening track “Look To The Sky” is as “pop-rock” as Ulrich Schnauss has ever been, with the usual cascading icy synths accompanied by the gorgeous squall of shoegazey feedback, a live drummer, and the whispery echo of a female vocalist. This song roars and soars its way through the air like nothing since Cocteau Twins’ classic Echoes in a Shallow Bay. “Medusa” is even noisier, building from some atonal bleeps into a full-on frenzy of guitar squalor and blurry vocals, bringing to mind the music of late great band Medicine. Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie gives his nod of approval by giving the remix treatment to two older Schnauss tracks and the results are predictably Cocteau-riffic. This fantastic EP leaves me salivating for the full LP, which is unleashed June 25. Rating 8/10

Von Sudenfed: Tromatic Reflexxions (Domino) LISTEN HERE This record sounds like it must have been a gas to make. On paper, the collision of German electro-experimentalists Mouse on Mars and Fall head grouch Mark E. Smith might seem a little queer. In reality, the last few Mouse on Mars albums featured a singer who wanted to sound like Mark E. Smith, but he had nowhere near as much sneer and snatch. As well, Smith has never had a fear of dropping some electronics into the music of The Fall now and again. It seems both parties took the collaboration as an opportunity to step a bit outside of their comfort zones and create an oddball electronic pop record that’s additively weird and very cool. Take “Flooded” for example, wherein Smith announces “I’m the DJ! I am the disc! Jockey!” in his most classic rant voice, then mumbles something about another DJ showing up instead and yells “So I flooded the place!” Mouse on Mars’ Andi Toma and Jan St Werner create a rump-rattling backdrop of electro bass, machine groans, and general fucked-up noises that fly out of the speakers and bounce around the room. At times, Smith’s voice is treated like a wicked science experiment, his trademark repetitive outbursts, already nonsensical, reduced to silly non-sequitors and reverberated grumbles. These three guys have an incredibly bizarre sense of humor (“Chicken Yiyamas”? A lawnmower solo on “Jback Lois Lane”?) and they aren’t afraid to come across as loony maniacs if they feel like it. There are a few cuts where the schtick begins to wear a little thin, but overall Tromatic Refexxions is a real keeper. Rating 7/10

Johnette Napolitano: Scarred (Hybrid) LISTEN HERE

Concrete Blonde queen diva Johnette Napolitano has always dabbled a bit in the darkside of the human psyche, and on Scarred, her debut solo record, she does magic for the therapy industry by sending us on a harrowing trek though the mental murk of humanity. It’s a chronicle of her struggle to overcome the deep-seeded fear and anxiety that she’s just not good enough, not pretty enough, that she doesn’t belong. Scarred immediately takes flight, leading off with the scorching “Amazing.” Right away the listener realizes that Ms. N isn’t here to folk around, she’s looking to sear our face off with raw power and high drama. On “Scarred” her voice breaks with raw emotion, as if her nerves are about to shatter like glass, and a sinewy guitar riff comes pouring out like innards from an open wound. The gravelly recitation of her “Poem For The Native” recalls Tom Waits, and the vocoder and punk psychedelia of “My Diane” seems like something lifted from a favorite old Kate Bush album. A big conceptual and musical influence for her it seems is David Bowie in variety rock mode (The Man Who Sold the World, Lodger, Heathen). Scarred rocks harder than one might expect, even more than any Concrete Blonde album I can think of. The production is crisp and texturally varied - occasional synth loops and sound effects meander through effectively. However, the main star here is the Voice. Napolitano ranges from casually chatty to mad whisper to savage growl to soaring and operatic, sometimes in the course of the same song. She even manages to do a perfect Nico impression on her charming cover of the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties”. Rating 7.5/10

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