Bright Eyes, A Collection of Songs 1995-1997
(Saddle Creek Records)
Conor Oberst, who records as Bright Eyes, is 17 years old and has put out three full-length CDs. The latest is A Collection of Songs and it's just him, his four-track and his songs. Fuzzy noises, phones ringing, chairs creaking, doors opening and closing while he delves into the intense emotions that drive his songs. You can hear it raining outside during one of them.
When I first heard Conor, he was in a band called Commander Venus from Omaha. A friend from Iowa had mailed a tape on which a very wavery voice cried, "The bitch, she lies to me" repeatedly.
"He's like, fourteen," my friend said. "He sounds kinda like a dying Smurf."
Nonetheless, I was completely taken with Oberst's wrenchingly emotional songs. He would scream with such out-of-key agony that the only way to react was a combination uncomfortable grin and shrug. He really gets into it and that is so rare in this inhibited electronic music era that it takes a little getting used to. Yet once you do, you realize it's all right. It's not about sounding good, it's about sounding real.
Listening to A Collection of Songs is not unlike listening to your friends messing around on guitars and bongo drums in someone's messy living room. It's personal, laid- back and about being in the moment. Everyone may be tired and/or under the influence, but the talent still shows. If your faith in new and independent music needs to be revived, Bright Eyes is the smelling salt.
Black Grape, Stupid Stupid Stupid
Shaun Ryder, the amphetamine-fueled ring leader of Black Grape, the man famous for not being allowed into the United States for overseas drug convictions and formerly of the Happy Mondays, scheduled the release of Stupid, Stupid, Stupid to coincide with "Grape Tapes," a UK home video documenting the band's touring, recording and bingeing over the past seven years.
The first track "Get Higher" is laden with groove and funk, although the drug inspired lyrics reflect a childish naivetéeacute; of sorts leaving the listener somewhat doubting the intelligence of the band. The second song "Squeaky" is brilliant, combining awe-inspiring energy with hopped up vocals to form a ready-made riot anthem.
The best song, though, is "Lonely," in which saxophone, trumpet and trombone are mixed in, delivering a full four minutes of pent-up angst backed with jubilant celebration. "Dadi Waz a Badi" is the runner up, and in true Black Grape style mixes bent samples with forceful accompaniments generating a perfect juke box-playing, in-the-pub-singing song.
All in all, Stupid, Stupid, Stupid is a decent release, but if you didn't like the first Black Grape album, or haven't heard it before, listen for the "Get Higher" single on the radio and wait to make up your mind, as this type of stuff isn't for everyone.
And whether you appreciate the music or not, it's hard not to admire the publicity campaign behind this album. Keeping in mind the title, the label sent out advance copies to a number of celebrities, including Marv Albert and Pamela and Tommy Lee.
Stupid, Stupid, Stupid is scheduled to be released in the United States Feb. 24.
Sixteen Deluxe,Emits Showers of Sparks
Austin, Texas: known in the music world as the home of famed music festival South by Southwest, the local conditions are perfect for a great music scene. Austin has been like this for while. But nothing's cool until MTV notices, right? 1997 saw the introduction of Austin Stories, a TV show set in Austin about some cool Texans. The theme song is by an Austin band named Sixteen Deluxe.
Sixteen Deluxe is the product of a good music scene - radio-friendly pop that fits in nicely with MTV's glaze. If you were just hanging out somewhere and this band happened to be playing, you'd be sure to go back for the next show. The music here is nothing special, but it's like a plain old Hershey bar-even though it's pretty darn boring, sometimes the no-frills milk chocolate is exactly what you crave.
Sixteen Deluxe cites classic rock and FM-friendly pop as influences, music made for sunny-day-driving with the windows down. In the Seventies, the Deluxe ones, like everyone else, blasted Led Zeppelin; in the 80s, that "Pink Cadillac" song. As we near the end of the millenium, though, we often crave something more simple, more raw: Texans and pop bands like Sixteen Deluxe. So what if it's not earth-shattering and ground breaking? Songs like "Purple" and "Lullaby" are great because they're easy to listen to. Plain ol' guitar hooks and melodic vocals, plus the catchiness of superbands like (insert your favorite "alternative" band here). And really, is there anything so wrong with that?
Original Soundtrack, Half Baked
The rumors surrounding the release of the "Half Baked" soundtrack (as opposed to the impending film) were promising indeed. The word was that the soundtrack would be divided in half, with half produced by the Dust Brothers and half produced by Tricky. The reality is something a bit different.
Although Tricky is represented on a number of tracks, the Dust Brothers are noted on only two songs, one by Smash Mouth, the other by Coolio- neither very good. So, there's the random stuff: Bloodhound Gang, who have about as much musical ability as, well, Smash Mouth, whose track ranks right up there with the atrociously awful "We Are Dumb" by Home Grown and "Seasons Change," by Days of The New, a group that thinks it's still cool to sound like "Ride The Lightning" era Metallica.
It is interesting to hear Luscious Jackson take on punk rock, though, with "Love That's Real Suite," which, along with The Pharcyde's classic cut "Pack The Pipe," is the only non-Tricky affiliated track worth a listen.
As for the Tricky stuff, that's where the value lies here: the Bristol whiz produced four tracks, two of which he performs on (the standout track "We Know," with DJ Milo, and a small part on "Flyin'" by the Tom Tom Club and Nonchalant) and one he remixed. Of these, all range from good to brilliant, with the exception of the remix (Black Grape's "Marbles," which was a tough song to save anyway). A new Cibo Matto track produced by Tricky should be reason enough for any hipster to grab this disc.
Basically, "Half Baked" has some really good music and some really awful music, like many compilations. The only difference here is that the line is so clearly drawn; follow Tricky through the liner notes and he'll show you where it is.
- Doug Levy