FROM WHICH COURSE: AN INDEPENDENT EDUCATIONAL PUBLISHING MAGAZINE
The latest album reviews
Thursday 21 September 2006
Espers, Espers II, Wichita
The seven long tracks on this second full-length effort from the Philadelphian psychedelic folk-rockers form a satisfying whole, one whose roots burrow back into the late Sixties mystic-mythic mulch. With titles such as "Dead Queen", "Widow's Weed" and "Dead King", the album is clearly preoccupied with mortality.
The eight-minute "Dead Queen" that opens proceedings is typical: taken at a suitably funereal tread, it begins with acoustic guitar picking, around which are wrapped eerie tendrils of electronic tones as Meg Baird starts to sing with the stark purity of Pentangle's Jacqui McShee. Multitracked cello lends an antique drone, before Greg Weeks adds a slow lead guitar line. Somewhere along the way, you realise that an electric harpsichord has been added to the mix. It's like wandering around the edge of a forest and suddenly realising you've strayed deep into its darkest, lushest regions, with no clear idea which way is out.
Pharrell, In My Mind, Virgin
Though rock'n'roll is, to a large extent, built upon unfettered ego, there is one kind of arrogance that afflicts producers, persuading them that their talents extend to in front of the mic. Which is only excusable if you're Brian Wilson, and most unwelcome from the former Neptune Pharrell Williams, whose career has slipped into precipitous decline ever since he became convinced of his solo potential. Just about bearable as a guest on someone else's track, he lacks the skills to carry an entire album on his own: even aided by contributions from Snoop Dogg, Gwen Stefani, Nelly and Jay-Z, the charisma gap is so cavernous it's embarrassing.
He sounds like he believes rapping is no more than talking over beats. Worse, his fund of decent grooves appears to have been used up on production commissions for other artists, leaving just a few monotonous husks for his own material.
Inara George, All Rise, Loose
Inara George is the latest beneficiary/victim of rock's dynastic urge, though at least she sought out other options - notably acting - before following in the footsteps of her late father Lowell George, songwriter and slide-guitarist with the seminal Seventies country-funk synthesists Little Feat.
Having succumbed, it's as if a dam has been breached, as she readies no fewer than four albums for release over the next year, with this solo debut followed by those of band projects George Is Jones and The Bird and The Bee, and then the follow-up to All Rise.
George is probably the most obviously gifted of such offspring since Jeff Buckley, blessed with vocal timbre and phrasing akin to Jolie Holland, and a sharp eye, cutting down a would-be suitor with the line: "If I was you, I wouldn't talk, just keep dancing." With the jazz-tinged, sophisto-folk settings creating an air of languid uncertainty, the result is one of the more beguiling singer-songwriter albums of recent months.
Dr Octagon, The Return of Dr Octagon, OCD International/Casual
Having "killed off" his Dr Octagon alias in 1999, the former Ultramagnetic MC Kool Keith now revives his most bizarre identity with this typically oddball effort. It is a continuation of the "intergalactic hip-hop" of the UMCs, with surreal sci-fi images such as "an elephant with metal wings pulling up at Domino's" and ruminations such as in "Aliens", where he muses on the possibility of being "abducted by a gas", over horror-movie organ and theremin. The backing tracks are courtesy of the One Watt Sun trio, with DJ Dexter adding scratches to "Ants": "Ants work together, jerk together, do concerts together, try and get hurt together". The only real variation comes with "A Gorilla Driving a Pick-Up Truck", with its steel guitar groove, but the results are never less than entertaining.
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