March 2, 1994
William Orbit, Strange Cargo III (I.R.S. 1993) -- London-based William Orbit, who labels himself a "club runner, D.J., musician, label operator, traveler, and remixer" released an ambient/synth-oriented album in Strange Cargo III. The disc has a new age feel, but is not drenched in the percussive (and often unlistenable) dancehall sound found on so many electronic instrumentals.
Orbit has been making music since 1983, and his mixing credits include work with Madonna, Prince, Kraftwerk, and The Cure. Orbit has released two previous "Strange Cargos"; as for Strange Cargo III, he says he is "doing it to your earhole, taking the road to your inner space, releasing millions of seeds of thought." Hey -- draw your own conclusions.
Strange Cargo III is a collection of instrumentals, built around a synthesized and electric sound. When this stuff works (a la Enigma), it's very good; when it doesn't work (a la Moby), it's bad (outside of a dancehall). Strange Cargo III hits a happy medium; it's a keyboard and tape loop fest, but it's not a 100 beats-per-minute drone.
Also included on Strange Cargo III is a cover of a Jack Nitzsch song ("Harry Flowers") that was originally featured in the Nicholas Roeg cult film classic, Performance. A video was prepared for the new album; it apparently does not contain substantial references to the peculiar "cargo cults" that developed in Melanesia after World War II (in which the natives waited for U.S. Army planes to return with more "cargo" for them). Nonetheless, Strange Cargo III delivers its own strange payload; explore it.
Lay Quiet Awhile, Delicate Wire (Daemon 1993) -- Lay Quiet Awhile is an East Coast foursome fronted by singer/songwriter Danielle Howle. Their new album on Daemon (a label founded by Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls) shows a variety of influences -- call it power pop meets the Atlanta guitar sound.
Atlanta, the home of Daemon Records, has been on the forefront of pop music for the last decade (Minneapolis and Seattle notwithstanding), and Lay Quiet Awhile is another worthy contender. With the clear voice of Ms. Howell (who joined the band in 1989) matched against her often-poetic lyrics and the rock-influenced work of brothers Phil and Dan Cook (Phil on guitar, and Dan on bass) and David Wright on drums, Lay Quiet Awhile has a solid sound for the 90s.
While the band occasionally veers into an Atlanta alternative sound (a la R.E.M.) or a blast of (unnecessary) grunge, its primary influence is power pop. For example, the enchanting "Go Right Through" (the lead-off cut) is reminiscent of Blondie at their prime. Likewise, "Time Won't Help" and "Tree Song" have a West-Coast sixties pop sound (which Ceremony tried to emulate last year), but without all the unnecessary Beatlesque trappings. In addition, "All the Things" features a guitar riff that is lifted straight off Van Morrison's "Wavelength."
All things considered, Lay Quiet Awhile has a refreshing pop/alternative sound. If you miss Debbie Harry (or maybe The Mamas and the Papas), go find this disc.
Fleshtones, A Beautiful Light (Ichiban Records 1993) -- As long as we're visiting the mecca of alternative rock, let's also give a big rock 'n roll tip o' the hat to Atlanta-based Ichiban Records, which has released the ninth album from the renowned Fleshtones. The Fleshtones, based in New York and with 18 years of history behind them, have released a charging new disc in A Beautiful Light.
The Fleshtones consist of Ken Fox on bass, Peter Zaremba on vocals, Keith Streng on guitar, and Bill Milhaizer on drums. Appropriately, the new disc was recorded in Atlanta and produced by Peter Buck of R.E.M. Fortunately, the band avoids the two extremes of southern rock -- it's not an experimental guitar-oriented sound, nor is it a thundering three guitar boogie-woogie extravaganza.
Instead, it's 36 minutes of good old rock 'n roll. With influences by The Yardbirds, The Kinks, and The Stooges, it's not hard to figure out where these guys are coming from. Also appearing on this disc is a well-oiled horn section consisting of Joseph Laposky on trumpet, Markus Airke on tenor sax, and Gordon Spaeth on alto sax. In addition, bassist Fox has toured with Jason & the Scorchers (who made some pretty decent records in the 80s that sank without a trace).
Vocalist Zaremba has a style that is reminiscent of Iggy Pop, but without the more extreme punk influences (and anger) that drive Iggy. While the Igmeister's latest disc (American Caesar) was a real disappointment, the Fleshtones are like the alternative universe version of Iggy -- imagine (if possible) the softer side of old Mr. Slash-and-Burn, with a dash of Joe Jackson thrown in, and you've got a fairly good feel for the Fleshtones.
Without question, these cats are a tight, well-rehearsed band -- like Cleveland's Pere Ubu, they're true craftsmen, but not widely known. With cuts like "Not Everybody's Jesus" (with its refrain "It could happen to you/It's the best I could do") and the horn-driven "Outcast," it's clear that there's no extra flesh in the Fleshtones. Recommended for rock 'n roll enthusiasts.
Nate Butler - Last week, Nate Butler and his band performed a faithful and extremely entertaining version of The Wall (by Pink Floyd) at Club Fred. Fred's place was packed for Nate & Co.'s sterling live rendition of this seminal work. The band proved extremely talented as they faithfully recreated this complex album song by song. Too bad if you missed the show -- let's hope the band decides play it again.
-- Randy Krbechek
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