Let's forget, for a moment, the widely subscribed to image of Dinosaur sidekick/Sebadoh honcho Lou Barlow as some sort of pioneer in the art of crude, experimental recording techniques. There is, after all, good reason for Herr Barlow's continued reticence in accepting said title. Aside from the fact that it's simply not true (see Edison, Thomas A.), Barlow probably also understands, even if the lo-fi lemmings whose lips wet at the very utterance of the term "four-track" don't, that lauding his home-grown modus operandi is about as silly (and elitist, in its own slumming-proudly-through-the-'90s way) as extolling the virtues of that third rhythm guitar track on the new Smashing Pumpkins single. To paraphrase our current chief executive (who, I'm sure history will bear out, has a prolific collection of his own bedroom tapes), it's the songs, stupid.
Keeping that criterion in mind, Barlow's The Folk Implosion, a compilation culled from his side project's two earlier 7-inchers -- yes, the tracks were recorded on a four-track in co-conspirator John Davis' bedroom -- fares pretty well, at least initially. Amply infused with Barlow's familiar indie-nerd broodiness and hook-conscious tunesmithery, the album's first five tracks exude a charm that cuts through the tape hiss. "Palm of My Hand," a willfully inept intro aside, hits pay dirt with an engaging, sing-along melody; ditto "Opening Day," a welcome addition to the pitifully diminutive baseball-rock genre. The moody "Lo-Fi Suicide," meanwhile, actually benefits from an aesthetically challenged production job that nicely underscores the song's crypto-confessional tones.
From there on in, though, things get ugly. One can only deduce that the fragmentary, overly cutesy "I Reserve the Right to Rock" is a deliberate attempt at annoyance, in which case congratulations are in order. Likewise, the cacophonous aural collage of "Final Score" is a pointlessly disjointed waste of a perfectly good SA 90. Mercifully annexed to the release's final grooves, they're proof that some recordings are better left in the confines of one's home.
-- Tim Kenneally
Another presidential election year, another Ministry CD: Al, Paul, and new drummer Rey Washam (ex of Scratch Acid) posit their own platform, one you can bet neither Clinton nor Dole will endorse. While more focused than 1992's Psalm 69, this little Piggie is all over the barnyard, from the hellbentedness of "Reload" to the respectable cover of "Lay Lady Lay."
Though certain ingredients -- one-note vocal bombasts; treble-heavy high-hat hiss; a dark, angry tone -- are instantly familiar, it's the new flavors that catch the ear: a harmonica blown to bits on the title track, a sweet falsetto chorus of "useless ... so fucking useless," and Metallica-like chunking guitars on "Game Show" and "Crumbs." The most palpable difference, though, is this album's overall speed, which, like the track "Lava," flows hot and slow and deliberately menacing. Overall, it's imbued with all the propaganda and posturing (and humor -- Ministry's blood-red Internet site links to "The Meat Page") of a major political campaign.
Er, Mr. Jourgensen, would you mind telling American voters why you're running for office in 1996? "It's time to settle the score/ To show your ass to the door." How do you propose better communication with congressional members? "You got something to say/ You better jump in my face." What's your stance on current BATF policies and implementation of the Brady Bill? "Aim/reload ... aim/reload." And have you considered a slogan for your campaign? "Inside a world full of shit/ You're still a man on your knees." The countdown to the millennium starts here, at Al's Hatred and Hollering Party HQ. Paranoia never sounded so right.
-- Colin Berry
"Folon" ... The Past
Salif Keita is an albino, and to be born one in his native Mali is to be born cursed. Such "undesirables" were traditionally sacrificed, but a village imam helped the infant overcome the stigma by prophesying fame. Later, after a teen-age Keita turned to music, his upper-caste parents threw him out on the streets; only when he became one of Afropop's biggest stars did he earn their respect. That Keita's life has been difficult is reflected in his impassioned vocals. Metaphorically linking his struggles to the troubled history of Africa, "Folon" ... The Past is a gorgeous testament to the power of perseverance -- and to the diversity of the continent's music. Recorded live in the studio with Keita's regular touring band, "Folon" offers everything from party-ready zouk to Nigerian Afrobeat, South African mbaqanga, and funky reggae.
When he returned home to Mali after more than a decade in France, Keita was elated by his country's newfound democracy, one recovered after long years under an authoritarian regime. He celebrates it in the title cut, a delicate ballad, then pays loving tribute to the late Malian fashion designer [Chris] "Seydou" with a gentle combination of acoustic guitar and balafon. The Aesop-like fable "Sumun" is carried away by churning dance rhythms as Keita, the horn section, and his backup singers all push each other to greater heights in a loose, seven-minute jam. But the best cut is the jubilant "Africa," Keita's paean to the culture that spawned him. He proves that you can go home again, and that it's better to come to terms with your past than escape it.
-- Chris Rubin
In a world swamped with T-shirt slogans, Silverfish's "Hips Tits Lips Power" became the definitive one. But as the aggro punkers' frontwoman, Lesley Rankine, soon realized, there's more to life than fueling riot grrrls with pithy phrases. She fled London for America, where she met Mark Walk during a brief stint with the Skinny Puppy-type project Pigface. The two holed themselves up in a Seattle basement with a bank of computers and synths, and the result of those seven months is the very unexpected Salt Peter, a textured, trip-hop odyssey through layered vocals, horns, loops, sampled conversations, and general weirdness. From the slithering opening beats of "Flippin' the Bird," it's obvious that Rankine has been transformed into a very different creature, perhaps the wayward sister of Polly Jean Harvey and Portishead's Beth Gibbons.
Rankine's former ranting has been replaced by a slinking sensuousness; when she declares, "If I scream, it's 'cause I want to," you certainly believe her. But upon reaching the ripe old age of 30, Lesley discovered there's more than one way to be heard: "I can speak so softly, 'cause I hold so much power," she sings on "Heidi." Musically, though the album moves fluidly from the NIN-reminiscent guitar thunder of "Pin" to the baggy danceability of "Swallow," direction is not a problem. Rankine's acutely painful/beautiful lyrics sew the pieces together, while her partner's pop sensibilities make the difficult revelations easier on the ear. Maybe the new year will see the aimlessness of blind Courtney Loving usurped by women like Rankine, those of us who have found there is strength in beauty and femininity. Maybe girls will be able to stop screaming, and boys will strain to hear them whisper.