Dour Grapes (6/01/2001)
Daft Punk, Discovery (Virgin 2001) - Daft Punk is a techno/electronica combo from Paris, France, that hopes to catch lightening in a bottle again. After selling almost two million copies of their 1997 release (Homework), the pair has reformed for the club-oriented Discovery.
Daft Punk consists of Thomas BanGalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo. The two work in anonymity, and do not reveal their faces to the press. The duo's early work did not win acclaim - their 1992 single was dismissed as "Daft Punk" by the British magazine Melody Maker. Flash forward eight years: Melody Maker, the magazine that gave them their moniker, now dubbed the venture, "Frighteningly fucking exciting."
Club beats, disco influences, and impeccable production mark Discovery. The creators work in anonymity. Their faces are never used, and they instead appear in robot costumes that cost more than $100,000. Says BanGalter, "We always prefer to do things and act rather than speak about it. By doing things we are showing some changes possible, perhaps more so than talking about it."
The duo's new getup is gold and silver skintight space suits, which have replaced the rubber masks that were used in promo pictures for their first album. Adds BanGalter, "Now we are robots, and so our faces are made of steel and gold." When asked a question about what their image says about them, de Homem-Christo responded in character, "I am not programmed to answer that."
With songs like "Something About Us" and "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," Daft Punk makes an atmospheric dancehall sound, not too fast, but with plenty of beat. And then you get into "Veridis Quo," which builds from a Switched-on Bach feel.
Explains de Homem-Christo, "For the first record, rave music generally was not accepted in France. The feeling we had was more close to the partying itself and the trouble that it made . . . The first one was more body-oriented. This new one is more beat-oriented, but also rides on more emotions and different feelings."
Continues BanGalter, "We want the release of this record to be the first step of interactivity and connection between the audience and the artist, so with the help of our record label and new technology partners, we have been looking at one model, which could be the future and have come up with a new concept."
That new concept is the "Daft Club," in which membership is guaranteed by the purchase of the album. Inside the CD case is a credit card which enables access to the Daft Punk website, complete with fan news and additional tracks and remixes not found on the album.
If you want to take the club home with you, Discovery is the obvious choice.
Greg Trooper, Straight Down Rain (Eminent Records 2001) - Greg Trooper is one of the most accomplished songwriters in Nashville, having penned songs for such artists as Steve Earle, Vince Gill, Maura O'Connell, Robert Earl Keen and Billy Bragg.
With his fifth album, Straight Down Rain, the singer/songwriter continues the alt.country sound displayed on such prior releases as Popular Dreams (1998) and Noises in the Hallway (1995).
Trooper grew up in Bruce Springsteen country (Little Silver, New Jersey). After stops in Texas, Kansas, and New York City, he settled in Nashville in 1995.
Explains Trooper, "I worked with such great writers down here and it is a wonderfully 'writer friendly' city. There were top notch musicians everywhere you went, and I figure that any place that John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Townes Van Zandt, Emmylou Harris, and Steve Earle lived had to be okay."
Trooper has an Americana message that he delivers in solid style on songs such as "Trampoline." Adds the singer, "Music is the thing that makes me want to get up and work. I have tried to do other things occasionally, but always, always, always, my real passion is listening to, making and writing music."
Straight Down Rain was produced by Phil Madeira, and includes drummer Ken Blevins, Madeira on guitars and keyboards, and bass player Dave Jacques. Guest artists include Julie Miller, Maura O'Connell, Steve Fishell, Claire Mullallay, and Bill Lloyd.
Trooper lets loose on songs like "Lovin' Never Came That Easy," before delving into Joe Henry's more experimental Americana sound on "Doghouse."
While Trooper can get down on himself as in "Stare Down the Night" ("Sometimes I seem to have no tools, knowledge, nothing to deal with it. Two steps forward, one hundred steps back"), he's also willing to poke fun at his dour outlook on songs like, "You Love Your Broken Heart."
Explains Trooper, "I know this guy who is so miserable, his own dog avoids him. Some people feel better holding on to hurts and grievances. Ken Blevins stayed on the ride symbol through the entire song, just like Ringo. He once told me his five favorite bands were The Beatles, The Beatles, The Band, The Band, and The Beatles. I love the way he drums."
For a well-honed slice of Americana, look for Straight Down Rain.
Glen Phillips, Alubum (Brick Red Records 2001) - Glen Phillips, the former lead vocalist for Toad The Wet Sprocket (which released six albums and sold four million records), steps out with his solo debut on Alubum. Showing a downbeat rock style, Phillips brings to mind the jaded outlook of Joe Henry and the humorous vein of Todd Snider.
Now age 30, Phillips started performing with Toad at age 14, and continued with the band until its demise in 1997. A rock veteran with a decade-long career, Glen comments, "It's been an intense period of time. I was excited about the future, about doing something new for the first time in my adult life."
Phillips continues. "I was also freaking out. I'd assumed that I could just pick up where I left off. It was bizarre to watch that machine just grind to a halt, and to have to start again on my own steam. I realized just how lucky I'd been. I don't think I'll be taking so many things for granted this time around."
The band on Alubum consists of Glen Phillips on acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards and organs, and vocals, Ethan Johns (who co-produced the album) on slide and electric guitar, Richard Causon on accordion and chamberlin, Jen Condos on bass, and Sandy Chila on drums (with additional assistance on strings and Wurlitzer).
Phillips' deceptively easygoing style comes through on "Men Just Leave," a pop rocker with its chorus "Women get stuck/Men just leave." And "Fred Meyers" is about life in a big-box store, a cross between Costco and Barnes & Noble.
Explains Phillips, "I like the idea of all the big-box stores turning into affordable housing. Today we don't know the people who live right next door to us. To bring people back together, it might take what everybody in America fears the most: the loss of our gadgets and money."
Also listen for the country rock elements in "Drive By" and the jangly guitars of "Professional Victim." Unfortunately, some of the slower ballads, such as "Train Wreck" and "Darkest Hour" don't pan out, as Phillips veers into the territory of sad-eyed folk.
The leadoff track, "Careless," is a great slice of L.A. Friday afternoon folk - sunny in spots, with a subdued melody. Alubum has rewarding moments, as Phillips comes across as a likeable fellow, with a deadpan sense of humor. Yet Alubum would have been a better album with some of the dourful trimmed out.
- Randy Krbechek © 2001
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