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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

May 17, 1995

Magnetic Fields

The 6thsThe 6ths, Wasps' Nests (London Records 1995) - The 6ths, a one-man "band" founded by songwriter/instrumentalist Stephen Merritt, have a quirky, college pop sound. For Wasps' Nests, Merritt recruited 15 different vocalists, one for each cut. The resulting product, instead of being a hodge-podge, is a delightful and eclectic album with gentle pop hooks.

Merritt has recorded four albums under the name The Magnetic Fields, and scored a college radio hit with "100,000 Fireflies." Merritt's lovely melodies are complimented by lyrics ripe with melancholy, personal insights and bittersweet imagery. Wasps' Nest is pop in the Beatles sense - the images are bright and evocative, and the lyrics conceptually challenging.

Merritt has a solid backing in classic top-40 pop, and cites such writer/producers as Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, and Burt Bacharach as his primary influences. Merritt explains that "I prefer to have other voices sing my melodies for that Brechtian distance. I see myself as the Cindy Sherman of college radio; I enjoy finding cliches and peeling the skin off 'til they lose consciousness."

In many ways, The 6ths' mix of male and female vocalists is reminiscent of The Beautiful South. The singers on Wasps' Nests include Georgia Hubley (from Yo La Tengo), Lou Barlow (of Sebadoh), and Jeffrey Underhill (Velvet Crush).

Highlights on Wasps' Nest include the sweet "San Diego Zoo" by Barbara Manning (of the San Francisco Seals), a California pop ditty about Highway 405, and "Here in My Heart" by Anna Domino, a charming love song. Fans of college and British pop will get off on this 45-minute gem.

ElasticaElastica, Elastica (Geffen 1995) - Elastica is a British quartet featuring three women that have deeply grafted on to late 70s and early 80s punk-pop. With influences from Blondie, The Buzzcocks and The Stranglers, Elastica is 42 minutes of power pop with loud, jangly guitars. And you're going to like it.

Elastica is a compilation of 16 tracks that was recorded largely in the summer of 1994 (including cuts from the band's prior EPs). The foursome was formed in London, and consists of Justine Frischmann (vocals, guitar), Donna Matthews (guitar/backing vocals), Annie Holland (bass), and Justin Welch (drums).

Singer Frischmann (who briefly played guitar with Suede before it went into astrospace) downplays the fact that the band features three women. "It's irrelevant really, pointless to marginalize someone in a 'women in rock' story. But one good thing is we're allowed to escape the tribalism in British music. There's a lot of bitching in boy bands, hating other bands. It's silly. Music's not a race."

After rehearsing and demoing for six months, a tape leaked out and, in true British tradition, the buzz exploded. Elastica's first public gig was performed under the name Onk; nevertheless, the club was packed. When their first single, "Studder," premiered in October, 1993, a limited edition of 1500 copies sold out in two days.

If Elastica's punk/pop reminds you of The Ramones, don't be surprised. Frischmann says, "I have a low boredom threshold. I want the best bits, verse-chorus, verse-chorus, that's it. The whole thing of playing two middle-eights in triple chorus to finish music isn't music, it's brainwashing. It's like an ad device to sell a song. If you want to hear the chorus again, rewind it."

There isn't much rewinding on Elastica. From songs like "Connection" to "Stutter" to "Never Here," the band's power-punk influences are plain. There's no balance here - just straight up, in-your-face rock 'n roll. Elastica's big in England, and the same should happen here. Be the first on your block to get turned on to Elastica.

ArbitronArbitron Radio Ratings -- According to information from Arbitron released early this month, the top ten radio stations in Fresno County for the Winter 1994 quarter are as follows:

1. KMJ (AM 580) 11.2%
2. KBOS (FM 94.9) 11.1%
3. KJWL (FM 99.3) 5.6%
4. KRZR (FM 103.7) 4.8%
5. KNAX (FM 97.9) 4.5%
6. KFSO (FM 92.9) 4.3%
7. KJOI (FM 98.9) 4.1% (tie)
7. KSKS (FM 93.7) 4.1% (tie)
7. KEZL (FM 96.7) 4.1% (tie)
10. KTHT (FM 102.7) 3.3%

KMJ (talk & news) remains the number 1 station in the 64th largest radio market in the U.S., buts its edge over KBOS (CHR -- "contemporary hit radio") is slimmer than ever. Don't count KMJ out; they've long been the rating champs in the Valley, and won't go down without a fight.

Newcomer KJWL (easy listening stars of the 40s and 50s) rockets to number 3 (they debuted at number 5 in the winter ratings), and it appears the sky's the limit. Nothing against oldies, but why can't we have some new music on the radio?

Holding at number 4 is KRZR (AOR -- "album oriented rock"), though its share dropped sharply (down from 5.7% in the winter book), while number 5 KNAX ("today's hot country") moves up from number 7. As the lone rock station in Fresno, life should be good at KRZR.

Number 6 KFSO ("oldies") continues its roller coaster ride. They were also number 6 in the Fall '94 ratings, but completely dropped out of the top ten in the winter book. Tied at number 7 are KJOI (adult contemporary), which is up slightly, KEZL (more oldies), which is holding strong, and KSKS ("the new KISS country"), which continues a precipitous ratings slide that began last fall.

In the tenth spot is KTHT (adult contemporary), which returns to the top ten after dropping out in the winter ratings. Losers include KOQO (Spanish), which was number 4 as recently as Summer '94, and KJFX ("classic rock 'n roll"), which frequently flirts with the top ten.

Required Legend -- These ratings are copyrighted by Arbitron, and are based on the percentage of listening audience ages 12 and over tuned in during any 15-minute period from 6 A.M. to midnight on Monday through Sunday.

-- Randy Krbechek

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