By Ian S. Port
By Cory Sklar
By Godofredo Vasquez
By Gil Riego Jr.
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Christopher Victorio
By Ian S. Port
Frith's peculiarly detuned guitar evokes alien, murky and often disturbing sounds. Unexpected barks, guttural shrieks, noise-laden chunks of chaos and pointed feedback pierce the wasteland to riveting effect. Cutler's clangorous percussion and spiky electronics are the self-described "flotsam" to Frith's "jetsam." Amid the debris of this sonic auto wreck, there are weighted silences, which form a haunted union with Cutler's toxic machinations and Frith's otherworldly demons. These are not the type of soundtracks you'll turn to on a sunny morn, but the fringe legions swear by their cathartic powers.
-- Sam Prestianni
Fred Frith plays solo Sat, June 3, at Berkeley Store Gallery Annex; call (510) 528-8440.
The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black
The core of this New York outfit -- provocatively grotesque rock goddess Kembra Pfahler and guitarist/husband Samoa -- started off making soundtracks for their low-budget art films, and, in a way, they've never really stopped. Like the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black's previous work, the anthemic glam-slams on The Anti-Naturalists serve primarily as a foundation for the band's lewd-icrous live spectacles. These goofy, punked-out, KISS-riff-rock tunes hold their own fairly well, but devoid of visual backup courtesy of some half-naked, garishly painted individuals and cheap cardboard props, one can't help but feel they're a tad, um, out of context.
Of course, millions have found the recordings of primarily theatrical groups like the aforementioned Knights in Satan's Service eminently headbangable, and this disc provides 11 tracks of comparable two-to-three-minute fist-wavers, albeit more aberrant, occasionally disturbing ones. Pfahler has said she was prompted to sing after being mugged a few years back; unsurprisingly, her lyrics are sparked by existential rumination and confessional soul-baring. In her inimitable, tonally challenged chirp-growl, Pfahler celebrates life's little banalities ("So Many Things"), alien abduction ("Am I Blue?"), transvestitism ("Honky Tonk Biscuit Queen") and the joys of hocking stuff ("Pawn Shop"); she also bemoans illness ("Sick Bed"), obsessive relationships ("Spelling Bee") and more. In 'n' out in half an hour, TVHOKB checks out strongly with the booming "Make It Look Easy," wherein an emotionally vulnerable protagonist shields herself from the world with a dark-sunglassed veneer of toughness. Now who could Pfahler possibly be singing about?
-- Mike Rowell
The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black plays Wed, May 31, at the Trocadero in S.F.; call 995-4600.
A Man Called Destruction
Alex Chilton is the "Tex" Cobb of the music world: No matter how many times he's been knocked silly by tangled business affairs and a fickle public, his spindly legs refuse to give out. High-school prodigy of the Box Tops, co-leader of cult footnotes Big Star, solo performer, sideman in exile, comeback kid, Chilton is a rock archaeologist's delight. His latest outing, archly titled A Man Called Destruction, proves he's nigh indestructible.
Much of this release is traditional rock 'n' roll, the sort that only a very few cool papas can still cut with credibility. For instance, the novelty tune "What's Your Sign Girl?" ("Is it compatible/ To mine?") reads ridiculously on paper. But Chilton's faltering falsetto and the refrain's sunny chords reveal a soft spot for lonely hearts that transcends the song's goofy gimmick. The rest of Destruction offers similar anomalies. Last year, Chilton recorded a loungy set of standards for Ardent; picking up where Cliches left off, his band plows through "Il Ribelle," a rollicking number sung in Italian. Chilton even brings respectability to Jan and Dean's Brian Wilson-penned "New Girl in School," a corny, dated piece of teeny-bop that's not out of place here.
Speaking of bop, "Boplexity," one of the half-dozen Chilton originals here, is a hand-clapping soul revue reminiscent of Memphis' heyday. Besides his rock purism, Chilton has also been known for his despairing alter ego; ominous confessions made some of his late-'70s material uncomfortable to witness and you'll find some depressing themes here. But "It's Your Funeral" is a buoyant brass-band dirge that recalls the music of New Orleans, his adoptive hometown, and the "Devil Girl" is actually a saucy vamp in black nail polish. Simultaneously boyish and intractable, Destruction is a primer for rock longevity.
God of Love
It's easy to distrust popular groups that disband, only to reunite when solo projects go nowhere or the money runs out. In this case, the Bad Brains carried on after frontman H.R. left a few years ago, and though H.R. actually released a respectable solo portfolio, his former bandmates went on to something distinctly forgettable. Now, with their original lineup intact, the Bad Brains return with an unassuming, heavy-ended work that atones for frittered time.
The Bad Brains' allure has always been their ability to navigate between a thunderous barrage of hardcore punk and the smoothest of reggae rhythms, to unify a unique hybrid of styles under a black-music vibe. The formula has not changed, though these new songs are fuller and more rhythmic. The title track and "Cool Mountaineers" both rock with a commanding certainty, while "To the Heavens" evokes an almost cosmic reggae mood. Still, as God strays from the short, punk spurts of earlier material, it's not nearly as detonating.
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