Grooves

Challenger
Give the People What They Want in Lethal Doses (Jade Tree)

Some flack touted Give the People What They Want in Lethal Doses, by Chi-town's Challenger, as "possibly the best record Jade Tree's ever released" – a heavy statement, as a couple of my all-time faves are on J.T. Maybe that's why I didn't dive right into the album – hot air, however gently puffed, you know? So I thrust my chin out like an obstinate gorilla and refused to really like the album for a while. I thought of things I could call it in a review without really saying anything about it: Edgy. Angular. Maybe even the kiss of death: vaguely reminiscent of Fugazi. But you know what? This is the part in all of my overblown, self-obsessed maundering where I reach for transcendence with my greasy little paws: Challenger are none of those things, silly.

Their lyrics, of course, sealed the deal: "Anakastic existence. Love? It's just an added expense and this operation must downsize," one of the singer guys screams – either Al Burian and Dave Laney. Lately (since, say, Buddy Holly did "Peggy Sue") love songs seem played-out, and I sort of dug the crassness in the managerial talk – enough to look up "anakastic." Turns out, I think, he means "anankastic," as in "anankastic personality disorder," wherein a person "is preoccupied with rules, procedures and efficiency, is overly devoted to work or productivity, and is usually deficient in the ability to express warm or tender emotions." Give the People What They Want: the sound of alienation, the sound of trying to come across with the warm and tender in a world where everyone's got a cable modem hooked up to their heart and information's moving at a speed that's just too fast for that old hunk of meat. Jarvik 7? Fuck that! We need full-on digital hearts, microprocessing – speed, speed, speed – you can keep that Fisher-Price shit. It's dissonant, jagged – did I say edgy and angular? – it's the human being lawnmower, as the MC5 said. "You're always looking for somebody to tell you, 'Hey, it's all right if you want to spend the night,' " Singerman sings on "This Is Only a Test," and he's answered by a female voice in the next tune, "Brand Loyalty": "You're great but it's never going to work out between us.... After tonight, we'll never be together again."

So it's bleak, which is OK by me since I only had to reach for the dictionary once, and even then, the word was misspelled. Too many 50-cent words and an intelligent punk band with heart start sounding like Bad Religion – a Ph.D. dissertation with power chords. Even the fact that I noticed seems to speak of perfectionism bordering on anankastic personality disorder. (Duncan Scott Davidson)

Marques Wyatt
Horizons (Om)

Oh boy. Another house DJ mix from Om Records– stop the presses, there's coal in Newcastle. Still, it's my duty to pay cursory attention to every CD that crosses my desk. Well, thank god for due diligence, because Horizons, the latest from Los Angeles deep house don Marques Wyatt, turns out to be worth the listen.

Wyatt was largely responsible for introducing house to mixed L.A. crowds in the late '80s and has run a succession of popular nights there, from the seminal Your Momma's House to the five-years-old-and-still-kicking Deep. At the same time, he has always had strong ties to San Francisco, not just through his string of releases for Om but also through appearances at parties like Mushroom Jazz and Bulletproof's Boat Parties. Despite all this West Coast activity, Wyatt's brand of soulful deep house has been equally influenced by the New York sound of people like Masters at Work.

So it's not surprising when (after the somewhat cheesy, spiritual spoken word intro) the gospel of Intense and Voices of 6th Ave.'s "You Gotta Believe" ring out, setting the uplifting tone before smoothly melting into the luscious Portuguese of Barbara Mendes on S.O.M.'s "Musica." These tracks are the kind of glossy, direct descendants of disco one expects from a Wyatt set. But his subtle forays into more varied territory really make a difference. Though his initial excursion into dubbier terrain – Walter Jones's "GC's Theme" – stalls out, Wyatt quickly regains his footing with the popping scat of E-man's "Slanging." From there the emphasis stays squarely on percussion, steadily building before leveling off at a perfect 3 a.m. plane with the sublime pulse of Osunlade and Maiya James's "Same Thing." Remember: there's a reason house still packs clubs. When curated by a selector like Wyatt, with his understated E.Q. work and practiced programming, it truly can be transformative. (Peter Nicholson)

We Ragazzi
Wolves with Pretty Lips (Suicide Squeeze)

It's the best and the worst of times when We Ragazzi vocalist Tony Rolando opens his pretty lips and lets loose a howl. He's impudent and insouciant – more urgent than Hot Hot Heat's Steve Bays and more awake than the Strokes' Julian Casablancas – and he hits his syllables like a hard elbow to the jaw or a loose, soused roll up to the bar. In either case, there's always a surplus of attitude. His yowl even meets its match when pitted against the lupine howls on "Let's Be Wolves and Leave," on Wolves with Pretty Lips, as he sings, "I am not a machine / Can't you see the blood / On my teeth." He's a wolf in no-wave hepcat clothing, and like recreational bloodsucking, he's an acquired taste, even when his open-mouthed squawk is paired with the punchy, accessible no-wave pop of his band.

On the bright side, his songs tell tales of torrid flings with anonymous boys, the odd push in the bush, and cruising sessions for shiny new crushes. "I seen him on the dance floor / I seen him at our shows / Never seen him in the / Morning bedroom light," he half yelps, half muses on "I Want Butterflies (All the Time)," after teasing out multiple meanings of the song "Making You Queens Tonight." It's a welcome change from lyrics about, say, general anxiety disorders, robots, and cubicle farms, though can anyone say for sure what most no-wavers sing about? Everyone knows it's the abrasive yet purgative, jerky yet gotta-move sound, not the high school English lyrics, that count. Which isn't to say Rolando's lyrics are much more elevated, but he does find new reuses for the genre's nervy, twitchy rhythms. Drunk on a sound that takes perhaps more from post-punkers like Fugazi than it does from Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and coupling his jagged guitar playing with the burble and crash of Colleen Burke's keys and Alianna Kalaba's drums, he puts a boy-wave spin on the so-called no wave. We Ragazzi play May 26, Bottom of the Hill, S.F. (415) 474-0365. (Kimberly Chun)


May 19, 2004