Music » CD Reviews


Basement Jaxx

Techno just isn't as fun is it used to be. Sure, the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim bring occasional smiles with the jams, but besides the rare "Rockafeller Skank" (hell, the new Chems isn't even that much fun), electronic dance music has given way to arty thinking projects like Orbital and Underworld. Which is just fine if you want to sit around and ponder life's Big Questions as cumbersome synth music churns away in the background. But what about when you just want to shake, shake, shake your booty?

Enter Basement Jaxx, another electronic duo from overseas with a penchant for big beats and loud noises. Cramming in as many bpms as it can and worshiping at the mighty altar of American house music, Basement Jaxx turn its debut U.S. album, Remedy, into one of the year's finest parties. It's pretty brainless, nonstop, and loads of fun. Twenty years ago it would have been called disco and burned on some baseball field in the Midwest; more modern man slaps the electronica tag on it and pumps its first single, "Red Alert," to the top of the dance charts. Good choice, because the diva-diving tune kicks up a storm and uproots the house at the center of it all.

And the rest of Remedy delivers similar action. Skittering beats collide with Daft Punk-esque vocoder melodic lines, freight-train power guides chug out driving rhythms, and screaming divas boil over with gospel-like jubilation. It really is made for the dance floor, and coming down is not allowed. There are no crash-and-burn operatics going on here. Basement Jaxx is obsessed with dance music as much more than just a culture: It's a matter of life. The opening "Rendez-Vu" is an aural feast of everything Remedy does right — particularly the renaissance of the music's long-lost heart. "The music keeps on playing on and on," rejoices the Jaxx crew on the divine "Red Alert." It does, and more importantly, it brings the soul to a music that is often painfully bleak and tedious. Basement Jaxx throws one hell of a house party. — Michael Gallucci

You Can't Stop the Bum Rush

Novelty rock, no matter where it pops up or what form it takes, isn't as simple as it may seem on the surface. Weird Al goes for the obvious: snapping up other people's songs and reworking them for one, maybe two yuks. Groups like Len, a Canadian combo that subtly treats whiteboy rap like the goof it is, has a much more difficult time with the novelty game. They dip into the source and polish its faults and direness until they sparkle with laughs. Which makes their major-label debut, You Can't Stop the Bum Rush, all that more enjoyable, since it succeeds on the most basic of novelty levels.

But it's not just hip-hop that gets a makeover here. Len skewers wispy modern rock, bubblegum pop, clunky new wave, and loads of techno overloads from the past (there's an Afrika Bambaataa-like blast of '80s electrofunk and a hilarious Kraftwerk rip that actually employs a real German singer to intone its living-in-a-plastic-world susceptibility) and future (Stereolab, Air, and all those Frenchy electronic bands are targeted, as well). It's not quite parody that You Can't Stop the Bum Rush is up to here, but it's pretty damn close. How else to explain the pretty-fly get-ups the crew sports on the album's cover, not to mention the group's not-too-tough monikers (D-Rock, DJ Moves, Burger Pimp)?

Frontman Marc Costanzo (he's the Burger Pimp), along with sister Sharon (whose flimsy voice softens every bit of forced hardness her brother — whose own voice is only a few notches above his sis's in terms of wispiness — lays down), anchors Len with a fondness for '70s-onward pop musical culture. The delicate balance between the radio cheesiness of "Steal My Sunshine" and the legit cameos of old-schoolers Biz Markie and Kurtis Blow makes room for Len's past without really falling into retro traps.

Maybe because every ounce of You Can't Stop the Bum Rush is infused with a jokey reverence for hip-hop or whatever. "Hot Rod Monster Jam," which sounds like a game of radio roulette (heavy metal guitar, disposable synth riffing, a children's sing-song melody) played over Pong, gives way to the human beatboxing of "Cold Chillin'." And then it's on to something else. Sure, it's all disposable, but it's all in good fun. — Gallucci

She Haunts My Dreams

Ornette Coleman recorded some of the greatest jazz in history with then-young acolytes like bassist Charlie Haden and coronetist and pocket trumpeter Don Cherry. As musicians, you can't fault the résumé. As parents, that's another matter entirely.

All three have let at least one child follow them into a career in music, and so far, the results are less than stellar. Ornette dropped an impressionable Denardo at the family drum kit before the kid turned ten; by all accounts, he's still there. Opting out of jazz, Cherry's offspring, Eagle Eye and Nenah, staked their fortunes in the lucrative land of catchy yet forgettable pop.

With his acoustic trio, Spain, Josh Haden takes his cue from the Cherry children and hits the pop/rock trail. Though his promotion company would have it that the young Haden has outdone his dear old dad, the only thing the singer/songwriter and bassist has proved with Spain's uninspired sophomore recording, She Haunts My Dreams, is that the musical genes often skip a generation.

There are reasons to like this album. Josh and compatriots Joey Waronker on drums and Merlo Podlewski on guitar dig languid tempos and airy, alt-country atmospheres, and they fill out their songs with attractive lap guitars licks and organ fills. It makes for pretty music on the surface. Dreams turns out to be a lightweight album, however, and the languid turns dull right fast.

Every song plods along at the same drawl-crawl tempo and over the same few chord progressions — a tactic that inevitably forces one to pay attention to the lyrics. Not a good plan. Haden earnestly drones on about breakups and other assorted heartburns, hoping for pith. But with lyrics that read as if lifted from a high school literary journal, he falls somewhat short. Consider the following representative lyric from the nearly lite-rock "It's Only Love": "It was love/Only love/Only love/Oh, then why/Do I feel/So alone?/Love/Only love/It's only love." Now imagine this sung ad nauseam, with little to no change in inflection, over wood-block beats on the two and four, and you'll have a good idea as to what Spain is all about. — Aaron Steinberg

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