Tripping Daisy
Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb

A Texas outfit with Tripping Daisy's wiseass pedigree could only hail from Dallas, a city that prides itself on standing apart from (and above) the rest of the state. It's also no big revelation that Tripping Daisy's often uncomfortable attempts at better alt-pop transcendence through pretentious oddball chemistry would be better served in, say, New York or Los Angeles. And, indeed, there are certain Texans out there who'd just as soon see the group load up its dippy, self-absorbed ego circus and hightail it to Greenwich Village.

But, alas, somebody must like Tripping Daisy. The band's last release, I Am an Elastic Firecracker, sold upward of 300,000 copies. And at a time when major labels are cutting bands loose at an alarming rate, Tripping Daisy has remained with Island Records since 1992. Truth is, the band has hung in there when many predicted a meltdown after 1995's Firecracker, yet another strained and disjointed studio outing. You could say the group has thrived on its insufferable outcast status here in Texas, upending the stigma to reveal a rugged undercarriage of resolve. Their self-serving gag-rock elitism subscribes to the philosophy that it's better to get a rise out of listeners than no reaction at all.

So naturally, band founders Tim DeLaughter, Wes Berggren and Mark Pirro responded to Firecracker's lukewarm critical reception as expected: They blew it off. They toured relentlessly behind the release, after which they returned to Dallas and faded out of sight to regroup, adding a new guitarist and drummer. Their new lineup solidified, Tripping Daisy then headed north to Woodstock, New York, and nearby Dreamland Studios to record Firecracker's belated follow-up.

Turns out getting the hell away from Texas did the band some good, as Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb is Tripping Daisy's catchiest, least inhibited work to date, a deliciously temporary, mildly decadent mind-fuck. Befitting their nonsense titles ("Sonic Bloom," "Your Socks Have No Name," "Bandaids for Hire"), few of the album's 15 tracks amount to much in the way of content. Most are just bundles of syllables strung together for no other purpose than their conveniently quirky rhyme schemes (sample nonsense lyric: "You can set yourself on fire / Burning's good when you're burning wood / It tastes the same with an overbite.")

Surprisingly, though, Tripping Daisy's silly streak is bearable, for a change. Perhaps it's because Atom Bomb does such a convincing job of making the ludicrous seem effortless -- even, God forbid, inspired. In the past, the group could be relentless in its pursuit of the perfect novelty angle. At best, those strained efforts suggested an unlikely collision between Ween and the Butthole Surfers. At worst, the band sounded like a simple-minded, redneck cousin of the former and/or a far less dangerous version of the latter. But on Atom Bomb, Tripping Daisy happily works within its limitations, playing up its underrated skill for plucking hooks out of thin air. And with the help of co-producer Eric Drew Feldman (Frank Black), the group boosts its sonic impact at little cost to the music's impulsive streak.

There's even that rare moment on Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb when Tripping Daisy almost sounds sincere. "Love gets inside of you / Makes me invisible," DeLaughter sings in "Sonic Bloom," his voice quivering and exposed. A love song, no less -- and one that shamelessly defaces the Carpenters' legacy. Is it any wonder Texas has all but buried this band? (***)

-- Hobart Rowland

Come Clean

Since Curve's Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia quietly dropped from sight in 1994, like-minded acts such as Garbage and Sneaker Pimps have done well in the duo's absence. Now, back from an extended hiatus and with the help of Alan Moulder and Flood (who, between them, have worked with everyone from Smashing Pumpkins to My Bloody Valentine), Halliday and Garcia are prepared to go toe to toe with their commercial superiors. Come Clean plushly melds vast walls of guitar noise and techno-Gothic beats to Halliday's airy melodies and newfound sensitivity.

Although still insufferably moody and atmospheric, Curve places less emphasis on torrents of guitar noise, instead leaning on their much-evolved melodicism. Halliday's elastic voice moves to the forefront in a poppier and more introspective guise. Not that she can't be a tough cookie when she has to be: On "Dog Bone," Halliday snarls, "You only call when I'm alone," baring her teeth amid squalls of feedback and an industrial-strength groove. But more often than not, Curve plays it soft, subtle and bittersweet. "Something Familiar," for example, is buoyed -- not buried -- by a wash of guitar fuzz and distorted keyboards. Rather than simply lashing out, Halliday shows maturity and restraint throughout Come Clean by focusing mostly on her own wounded heart, all the while questioning herself. (***)  

-- David Simutis

Curve performs Sunday, July 12, at Numbers.

Miles Davis
The Complete Birth of the Cool
The Complete Quintet Recordings 19651968
Sony Legacy

More than any other important player/composer of the modern era, Miles Davis never stopped developing, often embarking on musical excursions that confused fans and critics alike. His impact on the musicians who played with him and those who followed in his footsteps cannot be overstated. And while there have been many innovators in jazz, only Miles was, well, Miles, as these two new collections readily prove. Though extraordinarily dissimilar, both feature recordings that changed the genre's vocabulary. They also represent the trumpeter at two of his many creative peaks -- peaks at which it seemed he could make landmark music at will.

The Complete Birth of the Cool is a single-CD compilation that features Davis's legendary studio recordings with his Nonet ensemble between 1949 and 1950, as well as the once hard-to-find Nonet performances at the Royal Roost in '48. The first collaborations by Davis and arranger Gil Evans (though it's important to note that Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis and John Carisi arranged the majority of the songs), the Nonet sides are among the most important in jazz. Inspired by the work of Claude Thornhill's Big Band, Davis utilized the former's static textures and colorings in a smaller setting and at a faster pace. As such, the Nonet sessions were in direct contrast to the mid-'40s bebop stylings of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, which emphasized technical wizardry, fierce playing and multiple chord changes. Davis's approach was comparatively underplayed, with fewer chord changes, less vibrato and a softer feel.

The influence of the Birth of the Cool sessions is one of the more interesting phenomena in jazz. Davis's Nonet project performed only one paying gig and recorded only 12 songs over an 18-month span, with little promotion from Capitol Records. The recordings weren't released as a collection until eight of the 12 songs were compiled on the landmark 1954 Birth of the Cool release (all 12 songs wouldn't be released together until 1971). Yet the Nonet's recordings were already making a major impact on the West Coast music scene as early as 1952; top players like Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Lenny Tristano, Dave Brubeck and Nonet members Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis and Lee Konitz all embraced the cool school in smaller settings. Almost five decades later, the Nonet still sounds fresh.

The recordings, exceptional in quality for the time, have been remastered here for greater clarity, and the historic Royal Roost recordings are a welcome addition. The 13 live tracks, recorded when the Nonet served as the intermission act for Count Basie, are the outfit's only known live recordings. And though the recording quality is hardly outstanding, it is still better than many live recordings from that period.

By the time the Miles version of cool was all the rage, Davis had already moved on, becoming a forerunner of the hard-bop movement. By the early '60s, he'd be at the center of a landmark quintet consisting of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. The ensemble began recording in 1965. From the outset, the Quintet broke tradition: Jazz standards were out; originals by the members of the quintet -- most notably Davis, Shorter and Hancock -- were in. In the process, elements of hard bop and free jazz were combined. There were solo-less ostinatos, polyrhythmic structures, rhythmic suspension, acts of pure dissonance and chordless improvisations. The result was one one of the most unpredictable and groundbreaking groups in jazz history. Eventually Davis would introduce electronics and incorporate funk influences into the Quintet's final sessions, and by the time the Quintet made its last recording, it had already laid down part of fusion's foundation. Davis, of course, was one of fusion's principal architects and would further develop the form, once again changing jazz forever.

As the title suggests, The Complete Quintet Recordings 19651968 compiles every album the ensemble made, plus several outtakes and 13 previously unissued tracks. All in all, it's over seven hours of music spread over six CDs. Beautifully packaged in a metal binder, the collection has extensive liner notes and session information. As for the music: Sometimes it's accessible, sometimes not. But it's frequently challenging and always exciting. And seeing as each Quintet member is a stellar instrumentalist in his own right, it's almost redundant to say that the execution is tremendous throughout. Most important, the music still feels relevant more than 30 years later, and will continue to, decades down the line. The Complete Birth of the Cool (*****); The Complete Quintet Recordings 19651968 (*****)  

-- Paul J. MacArthur

Brian Wilson

All things considered, the 1995 film I Just Wasn't Made for These Times was more flawed love letter than full-blown Brian Wilson documentary. By far its worst moment came when Wilson wobbled frighteningly while singing unaccompanied, making him come off a wee bit like Elvis in his Vegas years.

That said, the most illuminating part of Imagination, Wilson's new solo album, is that it finds the legendary Beach Boy's voice at its most supple since Pet Sounds, while underscoring his unmatched skills as a visionary composer and arranger. Featuring collaborations with Carole Bayer Sager, Jimmy Buffett and J.D. Souther, Imagination was recorded at Wilson's home studio in St. Charles, Missouri. But being landlocked didn't deter Wilson from singing about what he knows best: the innocent entanglements of young hearts. As such, the occasional tired lyrical interlude is generally forgiven (or forgotten) amid this collection of blissful, breezy harmonies and stellar arrangements.

Aside from the fact that "South American" is eerily similar to "Kokomo," it's easy to be swept away by Imagination's simple pleasures. The luscious "Cry" opens with a honeyed guitar line; it gives way to a wave of gentle vocals that seem to swell and break back atop themselves. "Let Him Run Wild" (a reworking of the 1965 Beach Boys classic) skips along, ably accented by Wilson's fine falsetto, and the final track, the playfully adventurous "Happy," traces -- both lyrically and sonically -- Wilson's seeming emergence from years of emotional turmoil. Imagination succeeds in evoking the giddy uncertainty of an uncharted summer -- and the potential that lies beyond it. (*** 1/2)

-- Melissa Blazek

Press Ratings
***** Historic
**** Great
*** Worthy
** So-so
* Lame

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