August 28, 2002
Arts and Entertainment
OOOH! (Out of Our Heads) (Quarterstick)
When guest Mekon Kelly Hogan starts wailing 59 seconds into the first track, it's clear that OOOH! (Out of Our Heads) is going to be a pleasingly noisy affair. As the album progresses, and the gang vocals continue to pile atop the clattering drums and distorted guitar, while Lu Edmonds plays his saz like Jimi Hendrix summering in Turkey, you're left to wonder precisely how, 25 years into their "career," the Mekons manage never to sound the same while always sounding like the Mekons.
These tunes come off as a raucous, avant-garde take on British folk, though they're sung like gospel, with all the members of a proudly drunken choir soloing whenever the spirit they don't believe in moves them (which means they often do so in the middle of one another's lines). This approach reaches its most glorious climax on "Take His Name in Vain": Five or more voices belt out the title, first in unison, then each in its own rhythm. Suddenly Rico Bell comes out of nowhere shouting, "do do do do do," and one of the voices decides it likes that bit a lot and repeats it. The cacophony continues, picking up power and grace, so that when those combined voices ask you to "feel me dancing on that grave," you do, and you feel like jumping up and joining them, to boot.
Mekons records usually come with a theme, and this time out it's decapitation, both historical and metaphoric (and mythical, which combines the best elements of both). Heads roll one way or another on just about every track, from the skulls used as part of a voodoo incantation on "Dancing in the Head" to the weary, self-medicating souls with no option but to "lie on the bed / out of our heads" on "Stonehead." At once resigned and defiant, "out of our heads" perfectly sums up the band and its effect on listeners, which might make this disc the best thing the band's recorded in 10 years. (Tim Quirk)
Way back when the Boss Martians mattered half as much as they do today, they were a revivalist surf band cut from the same vintage cloth as San Francisco's own Phantom Surfers and Boston's Fathoms, but lacking the non-reverential attitude of the former and the studied chops of the later. This made them a pretty negligible commodity outside the limited circle of hardcore instro fans and the record geek contingency. Still, they managed to carve out a respectable career for themselves on the garage circuit and released three decent albums before vanishing from sight as the '90s drew to a close.
The band are back with a new disc, Making the Rounds, but they're the same unit in name only. With guitarist Evan Foster and organist Nick Contento the only holdovers, the suit coats exchanged for jean jackets, Fenders traded for Les Pauls, and their reverb-drenched past forgotten, the Boss Martians are now full-fledged rock and roll cretins.
They make unmistakable nods to the Small Faces, Spencer Davis Group, Mitch Ryder, the mid-'70s power pop of 20/20 and chiefly to geography a tip of the Northwest hat to the Sonics and Raiders. While there are the occasional downer moments, such as "Feel It like Everyone," which borrows from the Fall's frightening "Here's to You," in general the Martians' new dance party is a lot more impressive than their beach-blanketed past. Foster's pipes and newfound guitar raunch are eye-openers, and Contento's (sort of) updated Hammond sound adds an essential bit o' soul to the band's straightforward strut. The fact that the disc's lone instrumental owes more to Booker T than to Dick Dale underscores the band's metamorphosis from revivalists to blustery bar rockers. The Boss Martians are dead. All hail the Boss Martians. The Boss Martians play Sept. 5, Eagle Tavern, S.F. (415) 626-0880. (John O'Neill)
Boom Bip's From Seed to Sun is a flea market filled with bizarre instruments, out-of-tune guitars, and scratching. Stray, uncategorizable noises flit around the songs, ominous bass grooves boom beneath it all, and fanciful turntable cutting is laid over everything. The mess Boom Bip creates with his junkyard jams is initially daunting, if not off-putting. It's as if guest MC Buck 65's intimations of being followed on "The Unthinkable" "No matter what, I still can't sleep / Everywhere I still see ghosts," he says are a fear born out of the album's intriguingly hermetic introversion.
But eventually, as the title indicates, From Seed to Sun travels from darkness to light. Boom Bip's collaboration with Dose One, "Mannequin Hand Trapdoor I Reminder," is one of the most ecstatic indie rock songs I've heard this year, because Dose One, a formidable vocalist known for singing and rapping the sound of words rather than the words themselves, doesn't try to match Boom Bip's cascading guitar sample but instead just hums along with it, making for a wonderfully inspired collaboration. The final track, "Last Walk around Manor Lake," is an equally simple pleasure that pairs an electric guitar solo with an acoustic rhythm guitar. Often the album sounds like an electric bulb has turned on in your head; those moments of clarity shine all the brighter because the darker tracks ("Closed Shoulders," "Third Sun") make you work for them.
Boom Bip's Pavlovian game of listening challenges and melodic rewards wouldn't be much fun if he didn't have some great songs like "Heads Must Roll," which evokes classic British rock, complete with pounding kick drums and a sweeping string orchestra, and "U R Here," an abbreviated, slightly less obnoxious version of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Aesthetically, he uses sampling as a means of restoring order to a universe rife with chaotic sounds jostling against one another. There's a wondrously abstract story being told in spite of From Seed to Sun's seemingly random patchwork of instrumentals, even though the tale probably changes as often as the album is played for each new listener. (Mosi Reeves)
The title and the pastoral cover photograph of a wilderness lake evoke memories of those schlocky '60s easy-listening albums by 101 Strings and the Hollywood Strings. But wait, there's Nessie poking its head up through the tranquil reflecting waters, and UFOs are hovering over the scene on the back of the CD booklet. And the producer of this compilation is Henry Kaiser, Oakland's renowned avatar of almost anything but easy listening on the guitar.
Inspired by the "golden age" of acoustic steel-string instrumentalists such as John Fahey, Robbie Basho, and Leo Kottke and dismayed by the lack of contemporary recordings in similar veins (especially in the post-Windham Hill era), Kaiser enlisted 18 of his favorite idiosyncratic and eccentric pluckers, some of whom are better known for their plugged-in playing, to join him in updating the genre. Richard Thompson, Nels Cline, Duck Baker, Miroslav Tadic, Mike Keneally, Jean-Paul Bourelly, and others met Kaiser's genre-be-damned criteria for originality.
The diversity is staggering, from the classical-sounding opener by Gyan Riley (son of the famous composer-keyboardist Terry Riley) to the Burmese styling of U Tin; from the jaw-dropping virtuosity of Michael Gulezian and Richard Leo Johnson to the prepared strings and extended techniques of Janet Feder and Fred Frith. Revelations abound in the soft timbre and whiplash glissandos of Raoul Bjorkenheim (of the band Krakatau), the playing-cards-in-the-spokes variations of Rod Poole, and the randomly tuned "virgin orchestra" guitar of Steffen Basho-Junghans. Some players are highly rhythmic, while many check the beat at the door; some favor melodies that could lull a baby to sleep, while others scatter notes in Derek Bailey-like nonpatterns. True to Kaiser's intention, though, all create worlds of their own, perhaps inspiring listeners to do the same. (Derk Richardson)