New releases fill the gamut

Various Artists

The Sun Records Collection

Rhino Records

Rhino Records has just issued one of the most comprehensive collections of early rock ─ the 3 CD box set The Sun Records Collection.

The 76-song summary of Sam Phillips' Sun Studios illustrious history provides a wonderful overview of the label's seminal blues, rhythm & blues, hillbilly and rockabilly output. While such artists as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins are well, perhaps the collection's strongest feature is its caring representation of the artists on Sun who contributed greatly to the birth of rock 'n roll.

Disc one covers most of the influential blues and R&B that Sam Phillips recorded at the advent of his studio. From the frenetic one-man band fire of Joe Hill Louis, to the humble beginnings of such blues legends as B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf and James Cotton, the listener not only hears but feels the creation of rock evolving from track to track.

The box set was released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Elvis' first single, "That's All Right," and the box set includes many classic hits of the Sun period, including Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train," Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line," Carl Perkin's "Blue Suede Shoes," Jerry Lee's "Great Balls of Fire," and Roy Orbison's "Devil Doll." Disc two and three aptly display that not only was rock 'n' roll birthed in Sun Studio with Jackie Breston's "Rocket '88," but that Sun remained influential deep into the 60s.

The box set features exceptionally remastered CDs (including more than a handful of rarities), superior liner notes by rock historian Jimme Guterman, detailing the rise and eventual fall of Sun, and a motherload of quote and interview material from Sun Studio founder and producer Sam Phillips. All in all, The Sun Records Collection is a necessary addition to any record collection. ─ Noah Lopez

Palace Brothers

Palace Brothers

Drag City Records

The impossible has occurred. The Palace Brothers have created a more intimate sound for their new self-titled release.

1993s brilliant There is No One What Will Take Care of You was a calm and country folk approach to the indy-rock form, attaching well-written lyrics to bare accompaniments of guitar, banjo, and very loose percussion. However, by the sound of two early '94 singles, things were changing for the Brothers.

Not only did the band drop the "Brothers" from their moniker, evolving from plain old Palace to the awkward Palace Songs, but their sound took on a few new wrinkles as well. "Horses" sounded like an actual band was playing together, demonstrating more of a dirty rock feel than previous efforts.

With the new album, however, all that is history. The "Brothers" are back, but gone are the instruments. Palace Brothers, with some exceptions, is nothing more than minimal acoustic guitar and Will Oldham's plaintive singing.

Thankfully, the songs are still up to par with past Palace Brothers efforts. Oldham's songs are those of a dysfunctional Carter Family, and feel like the heart wrenchings of some backwoods Tennessee family. The Palace Brothers shift easily from the religious warbling of "Pushkin," to the romantic balladeering of "I Send My Love To You" and the sheer weirdness of "I Am a Cinematographer."

Palace Brothers is one of the finest albums of the year, from an eternally interesting band. ─ Noah Lopez

REM

Monster

Warner Brothers

Surprise, surprise, that is the sound of distortion in every song on REM's latest offering Monster. No doubt, bassist Mike Mills, guitarist Peter Buck, drummer Bill Berry, and a head-shaven Michael Stipe have produced their edgiest album since Document.

This heavily distortion-driven sound begins with the first single from the record, "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" And this is the typical Monster song ─ laced with feedback, but full of the catchiness of Stipe's vocals. The second song, "Crush With Eyeliner," is sure to go down as an REM classic, whether it is released as a single or not. The song features Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore. And is that a sample of the Ghostbusters' Ecto-1 siren in the background of the chorus? It's possible.

Admittedly, the feedback and distortion might grate on and annoy some listeners. Despite this, any fan of the more mellow REM albums Out of Time and Automatic For the People will more than likely enjoy the song "Strange Currencies," and the organ and piano powered "Tongue."

The songwriting on Monster is typical REM ─that element has remained intact. Michael Stipe's stream of consciousness style still flows in many of the songs. "Strange Currencies" lyrics playfully repeat "I need a chance ─ a second chance ─ a third chance ─ a fourth chance ."

The only element of Monster that would deter true REM fans from scooping this one up would have to be the harder edge to the music. But in the opinion of this reporter, if this Monster were stripped down and unplugged, it would be the same soft and relaxing REM record of the recent past, in every aspect.

Despite the criticism by virtually every publication but Rolling Stone, there is definitely an audience that will appreciate Monster. Those other nay-saying magazines assert that the harder sound of this recording is a tactic by REM to make their music more accessible to the "grunge" crowd. But what sense would it make for a band whose last four albums have gone multi-platinum to pander to a different group of fans?

─ Josh Dalton

Unsane

The Peel Sessions

Matador

Confession time ─ back when this reviewer was a young aspiring punk rocker, he tended to associate the term "Peel Sessions" with lame, depressing British bands like the Smiths. As a result, he spent a good portion of his life avoiding Peel albums with the same distaste as Kansas albums.

Now, many years later, Unsane's done a Peel Sessions album ─ which definitely breaks the stereotype. Depressing, maybe, but Unsane isn't lame by any stretch of the imagination.

Simply put, the nine songs on this album are wonderful. You can't sing along ─ that would be like singing along to a train wreck ─ but you can play them and be automatically wired for the next 21 hours.

Unsane tends to draw comparisons to Helmet ─ both are from New York, both like to play noisy ─ but the comparison isn't really apt, because as good and intense as Helmet may be, Unsane is about triple that.

All the songs here have appeared before on previous Unsane releases, but for the most part, the versions here are more raw and intense than the originals. Particular standouts are "Body Bomb" and "Bath," but really, anything on the album is worth playing a multitude of times.

Like powerful music? Get this. ─ Greg D'Avis

Tonight, Unsane will play at Boston's, 910 N. McClintock Road in Tempe, with Alice Donut, 7 Year Bitch and Slug. Admission is $8. Call 602-921-7343 for information.

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