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Wednesday, Oct 4 1995
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Sonic Youth
Washing Machine
(DGC)

We probably owe Sonic Youth a lot more than we realize. At the very least, the band reaffirmed the crucial relationship between music and the cultural context in which it's created, pointing out a fact so obvious that few had stumbled upon it before them: that, given a world that grows exponentially less familiar by the day, traditional tools like Western tuning and blues-based song structures couldn't possibly reflect it accurately.

And during the Great Pot Drought of '89, when all I had were antihistamines and Daydream Nation in my Walkman to soften the Bush-era sidewalks, Sonic Youth was indispensable to me. Said album proved to be definitive in more ways than one; even as it belied the rosy rhetoric of the New World Order, it served as the culmination of everything the group had been striving to express over the quixotic course of 10 years and half a dozen albums.

Therein lies the problem for a band to whom the journey is at least as important as the destination. What do you do, once total deconstruction has been achieved, besides kick the dismantled pieces around halfheartedly to see what kind of noises they make when they bang into each other? Once codification is achieved, can calcification be far behind? It's probably a testament to the singularity of Sonic Youth's sound that the foursome have had such difficulty transcending it since Nation, but that doesn't change the fact that subsequent releases like Goo and Dirty are exercises in self-cannibalization at best. And, while the group's exploration of the gaudy realms of pop culture iconography was amusing for a while, amusement is a far cry from the amazement that it once so capably invoked.

So where does Washing Machine, Sonic Youth's 11th album, find them? Still self-referential, if not quite self-reverential. "Becuz" is probably the best "Schizophrenia" (see Sister) since Dirty's "Theresa's Sound-world," while "Junkie's Promise," Thurston Moore's lament on the record collector's dilemma, echoes Daydream Nation's "The Sprawl" to an alarming degree. Still, there are a few baby steps forward: "Trouble Girl" is spared the fate of becoming "Tunic Part II" by the Shangrilesque veneer provided by guest vocalist Kim Deal; the cacophonous midsection of Lee Ranaldo's "Saucer-Like" suggests that they may have actually stumbled upon yet another new tuning; and "The Diamond Sea," the album's epic closer, boasts a melody so beautiful (yes, beautiful) that even Thurston's pitch-challenged warble can't ruin it.

Overall, Washing Machine is recommended, at least for the pre-established fan; then again, SY has always been a specialized taste. I'm not quite ready to kill my idols just yet, but neither am I ready to put the gun back in the closet.

-- Tim Kenneally

Various Artists
Project Blowed
(Afterlife/Grand Royal)

Unless you are an ardent student of hip-hop mythology, one that feverishly studies the styles and lyrics of its underexposed native sons, you've never heard anything like Project Blowed before. A compilation of underground West Coast MCs, it takes a rare look beyond the shoot-'em-up, bitch-slappin' rappers who quickly soften their sound for the hit-single video.

Case in point: "Maskaraid," a two-part peek into a party clandestinely hosted by Project masterminds Aceyalone of the Freestyle Fellowship and Abstract Rude. Over a swirling cosmic melody, the lyrically cryptic song moves from invitation to soiree's end, encapsulating the duo's view of the hip-hop "maskaraid": "Everyday they wake up, they wear a new face to the place/ I don't want to see them so much I'm gonna spray my own eyes with mace .../ A few of us who fully understand make up the pilots in the airplane game plan/ See they're illiterate, lost in the masquerade/ Unable to be free and stay away dismayed/ So we're on a mission to introduce them to hip hop," Ab raps.

When was the last time you heard an all-female rap crew that didn't play into the stereotypes-that-be? Here, the ladies of Figures of Speech float ambiguously between cascading verbal flows and harmonized libretto on "Don't Get It Twisted." "Heavyweights Round 2" unleashes the most stylistic of the underground's male and female MCs -- Volume 10, Micah 9, Sin, and Ganjah K -- blow by blow. The release also features two "lost" Freestyle Fellowship tracks.

Reduced to its essence, Project Blowed is a basement tape, a gritty depiction of hip hop's poetic and experimental side. But if the insecurities of risk and innovation overwhelm you, then steer clear and we'll hear from you in a decade.

-- jazzbo

Combustible Edison & friends
Four Rooms: Original Soundtrack
(Elektra)

No need to flog the film Four Rooms, which, I've heard, is likable enough, but those people still in doubt over postmodernism's passing might note that it's an anthology film "about" anthology films that were "about" the nature of canonization (The Seven Deadly Sins by Godard, Rossellini, et al., in particular). And the accompanying soundtrack is "about" the music one would find in those movies. Like the faux early 1960s Martin Denny/Julie London vibe of Combustible Edison, it's also "about" mocking what you desire, in fear of retribution from the Alternative Nation. In short it's "About" as "das Ding" and "about" the "authenticity" of "About." During Robert Rodriguez's clip, Combustible drags in Esquivel for the necessary "authenticity," a rather curious role model for sincerity -- does he know he's being mocked? Is he? These tracks are more cues than songs, and offer as much Combustible Edison as I'd like to hear: The band riffs on an idea, you get it, and it moves on. An artistically striving condescension reigns throughout, but I suspect you've read Freud's Mourning and Melancholia by now: You are what you hate. Such self-immolation is what makes the Cocktail Nation more punk than Punk itself.

-- D. Strauss

SF Spanish Fly
SF Spanish Fly
(Upstairs/Warner)

If you're looking for hard-core Latin hip hop, this ain't the set for you, but if well-crafted new jack pop with a taste of Latin flava will satisfy, then read on. Nicaraguan Octaviano Silva and Texan Milo Pro met in a San Francisco recording studio when Upstairs Records was auditioning singers for a Latin pop duo. Bands designed to fill a marketing niche are often successful though soulless creations, but SF Spanish Fly has the vocal chops, songwriting talent, and good looks to rise above its calculated beginnings.

The double-tracked, a cappella arrangements of Shep and the Limelights' "Daddy's Home" and the Dreamlovers' "When We Get Married" -- staple ballads of oldies radio, and a challenge to any street corner harmonizer -- highlight the release and suggest that these guys can croon with the best of 'em, as in Boyz II Men and other neo doo-woppers.

The rest of the album is crammed with radio-friendly hooks and catchy sing-along choruses of the kind that provide plenty of guilty pleasure. "Anything You Want" and "Girl Don't Take Your Love," both swingin' uptempo chunks o' funk, are made for blasting out of car stereos. Tommy James & the Shondells' "Crimson and Clover" is given a dancehall reggae treatment with a light Latin pop feel; "Treasure of My Heart" is a solid '50s meets '90s swinger in the manner of "Motown Philly"; and "Treasure of Love," the hip-hop ballad that became a regional hit, and led to the pair's Upstairs/Warner deal, is as sweet an adolescent song as you're likely to hear in these overexplicit times. Cynics would dub them a safely ethnic alternative to the gangsta rap that got Warner in hot water as of late; that is, bubble-gum hip hop even C. Delores Tucker could love. If they dump their adolescent group name, they could become the next mall-friendly superstars.

-- j. poet

About The Author

Tim Kenneally

About The Author

J. Poet

About The Author

D. Strauss

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Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

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