May 22, 1996
Joe Henry, Trampoline (Mammoth/Atlantic 1996) -- When little Mammoth Records (of North Carolina) merged last year with industry giant Atlantic, few could predict the future for Mammoth's roster. And who would have guessed that long-time act Joe Henry would record one of the most dynamic records for the new label.
But he has. On his seventh album (in a 10-year career), Henry has created a moody, idiosyncratic folk-and-rock sound that has few contemporaries.
Like G. Love, Joe Henry strives for a swirling, brooding sound. Unlike G. Love's use of hiphop, Joe Henry stays with a more traditional rock sound, albeit with lots of echo and overdubs. While the title track features a catchy refrain, the more sparse "Flowergirl," with its string accompaniment, takes greater risks.
Trampoline was recorded in Los Angeles and features Page Hamilton from Helmet on guitar, drummers Carla Azar and Tim O'Regan (from the now-defunct Jayhawks), and Bucky Baxter from Dylan's band on zither and steel guitar.
Trampoline is the kind of album Rosanne Cash had in mind when she recorded Ten Song Demo. However, Henry triumphs in every place that Cash stumbles. While the production leans toward the minimalistic, its not as stark and barren as Ten Song Demo. Likewise, while Trampoline paints evocative and emotion-draped images, its not as forlorn and despairing as Cash's world view.
Trampoline defies easy description, but the music holds up over repeated listenings. And that's the mark of a good album. Blending the folk/storyteller style with the trappings of rock recordings, Trampoline bravely makes its own way. Try it.
Lush, Lovelife (4AD 1996) - Sweet pop with fangs. Oh, it's so delightful. And that's what Lovelife is all about. With an affinity for soaring melodies, great pop hooks, and lyrics that reach for the jugular, England's Lush has released some of the best power pop since last year's Elastica.
Lush was formed in 1988, and consists of Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson on guitars and vocals, Chris Acland on drums, and Phil King on bass. Lovelife is the band's third regular studio LP, following Spooky and Split.
The album's pop simplicity and dual female lead singers allow Lush to stroll through all manners of moods. For example, "Papasan" and "Tralala" are exercises in heart-wrenching balladry, while "Lady Killers" and "Single Girl" positively drip with adrenalin. In addition, "500" is a swirling pop rock confection that might be about a car and might be about a relationship.
"There are certain songs that are obviously about telling blocks to 'fuck off,'" explains Miki, who wrote half the album, with Emma providing the other half. "But then again there are songs like 'Olympia' and 'Last Night' that are just the opposite. These songs aren't saying 'all men are bastards.' They're more about specific individuals, and they could just as easily apply to women."
The obvious comparison to Lush is Blondie. With its smart, sassy lyrics, and irrestible pop hooks, Lovelife should go down as one of the year's best treats. Get it now.
Possum Dixon, Star Maps (Interscope 1995) -- Interscope Records doesn't release a lot of material, but their albums are always challenging and strong. And the rock-oriented Star Maps continues this tradition.
Named after a fugitive seen on T.V.'s "American's Most Wanted," Possum Dixon (which is based in L.A.) has a fresh alternative/underground sound. Featuring Rob Zabresky on bass and vocals, Byron Reynolds on drums, Robert O'Sullivan on guitars, keyboards and backup vocals, and Celzo Chavez on guitars and backup vocals, Possum Dixon is at once roots without being retro and fresh without being futuristic.
Star Maps is the group's second full-length CD, and was produced by the renowned Tim O'Hare (of Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr., and Buffalo Tom fame). The 12 tracks create an aural landscape of Los Angeles. Songwriter Zabresky admits, "The L.A. iconography keeps coming up. It's cool that people are picking up on these things, but it gets a little strange when they start dissecting your words."
In discussing their recording career, Rob O'Sullivan cautions that, "You've got your dick flying in the wind. You're scared that the CD will bomb, but then what if it does something amazing? I want the record everywhere. I'll be bummed if it doesn't get a fair chance, but wherever it lands, it lands."
Star Maps has a divergent sound, from the more pop/Cheap Trick oriented "Emergencies About to End," to the feedback-drenched heavy metal psychodelia of "Radio Comets" (a great song). Also featured is the doubt-ridden acoustic rocker, "Reds." Don't ignore this band. Get Star Maps.
-- Randy Krbechek
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