Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star
Sonic Youth isn't the original punk band, but they've struggled like dogs to take credit, and you can hear the battle continue here. Punk's not about being young anymore (else where would this thirty-plus crew be?), and it's not about being independent of the conglomerates (or where would this disk be?), so it must have something to do with aging gracelessly, which Sonic Youth certainly do here.
Don't be misled by the acoustic blooze of the lead track, "Winner's Blues" -- this is still the same old warped-guitar assault, with the same old breathy Kim Gordon vocals and the same old snottier-than-thou attitude. We're used to Sonic Youth pushing envelopes, and so the same-old same-old line may seem to indicate disappointment. But at this point it's time to stop expecting revolution from the artsiest of artsy noise rockers and recognize that while they're not likely to redraw the map of rock again, they've become masters at navigating the plot they've surveyed as their own.
Which, oddly, doesn't mean that Sonic Youth's not jealous. "Screaming Skull" takes a nasty stroll through the SST label's L.A. superstore, home of seminal '80s punk rawkers including the Youth, with an attitude that shows Thurston's been listening to Poison Idea's "Record Collectors are Assholes." Wonder if anyone told Moore that guys who try to make themselves cooler by mentioning Superchunk on every record are assholes too.
The rest of the record is fully up to Sonic Youth's artcore standards. That's recommendation enough for me, a fan, but the band itself doesn't sound all that satisfied. Which may be why, after outliving expectations, Sonic Youth still sounds so fresh.
-- Brad Tyer
Blues, Ballads, Bebop and Beyond
This follow-up to last year's Blues, Ballads, and Bebop showcases Campise's more serious side: the grizzly blues yelps, madcap tempo changes and campy lounge-singer impersonations have been scrapped in favor of a stark, respectful early '60s mode. Amid the spate of recent tributes to and reissues of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus, the Austin reedman positions himself somewhere between hard-edged nostalgia and off-center reinterpretation.
As usual, his gritty tenor leads the way, lending a dark undertone to Billy Strayhorn's usually docile ballad, "Lush Life." "Adam's Blues" and "Foothills," two original compositions, capture a late hard-bop locomotive rhythm that Campise plays on top of, ahead of, around and underneath with a flaring, flattening low tenor.
Not one to hog the limelight, Campise plays generously off Mitch Watkins' Doppler-effect space-shot guitar riffs and Dennis Dotson's versatile trumpet. An up-tempo take on Coltrane's "Impressions" features Campise on a rangy alto. The album ends on the quiet side with a bass flute crawl through Campise's "Canyon of the Spirits," an echo-delayed field of tranquility that seems to be bidding for time on Hearts of Space until, halfway in, it takes a redemptive turn south of the border and picks up a Latin beat.
-- Bill Levine
Lemon and Honey (cassette)
Much has been made in the local press recently about professionalism -- or lack thereof -- in the Houston music scene. Apparently there's not much to be found, which is just dandy as long as those day jobs hold out, but the general lack makes it all the more noteworthy when a band like Beat Temple ends a prolonged silence with a product as polished as Lemon and Honey.
There are six songs here, each one a buff-and-cut chunk of velvet-smooth soul and relaxed funk. Lyricist/vocalist Ralz Mathias wraps his muscular pipes around a whole lotta love on this project -- some of the imaginary kind you strive for, but mostly the sort that's going bad fast -- and the band strikes a tricky balance between the upbeat party chants most commercial funk bands strive for and a more reflective personality far more rare in the field.
With Carl Jones on bass, Gary Wade on guitar, Rick Thompson on keyboards and Chris Axelrad on drums, Beat Temple has chops aplenty and an unwavering groove. If there's one thing I'd like to hear more of, it's these musicians getting down and dirty into some harder-edged funk. But Lemon and Honey leans toward sheen, in both the musicianship and the production, and if that's the chosen direction, there doesn't seem to be much standing in Beat Temple's way.
-- Brad Tyer
Bee Stung Lips
Bee Stung Lips
All dressed up but in no hurry to leave the house, Bee Stung Lips' debut CD is a cheery little pop collection that leaves you humming along with familiar-sounding hooks. But straying from jangly-guitar formula pop seems to be a step BSL has no intention of making anytime soon, making this disk something of a one-trick pony. Not a bad trick, but certainly not one bearing repetition in endless loop.
BSL strolls out of the gate with the catchy "In Her Wake," but in a sign of things to come, the tune navigates pretty shallow waters. More resigned than whiny, BSL meanders through a life in which women and men don't quite match up, but that doggone beat keeps plodding right along. Several talented guest performers wander in and out of the mix, and the intriguing and mesmerizing "City Song" and the offbeat "Bounce" stray just enough from the musical centerline to hint at the potential this band might fulfill on material with some bite. But moments like these -- coupled with first-class artwork and production -- only call more attention to the lack of interesting content.
Eric Garland sings his pleasant tunes with all the urgency of a man mowing a lawn, and with about as much emotional variety. Like the songwriting, the performances are competent but mostly unremarkable. A fine first effort, but for the most part a forgettable souvenir of a promising band -- one that may still manage to rise above the scene, given enough time and, perhaps, a little inspiration.
-- Elizabeth Reeder
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