Recordings

Karp
Self Titled LP
(K)

There are those who would say this country is in dire need of a presidential address on the State of Metal. So many unanswered questions linger: Whatever happened to White Lion? Witchfynde? Angel Witch? Death Angel? When will it be safe to sport spandex again? Bullet belts? Farm our hair? Strut around riding a mike pole? And, most importantly, where is the younger generation that fills in for the arthritic/balding elders -- those young and randy cock-rocking whelps who spent their late teens studying under masters like Rob Halford (Priest), Vince Neil (CrYe), Steven Pearcy (Ratt)? Every other conceivable genre is currently represented, nay respected -- from frat punk to gangsta rap to dykecore to industrial glam. (And I think we've all had enough of the metal old-timers releasing self-parodic albYms on tiny European labels.) So where in the hell is that new crop of swaggering pretty boys?

Well, Olympia's Karp are decidedly not pretty, and listening to Self Titled LP, one could guess they don't swagger around with scarves tied to their thighs. (Though it certainly couldn't hurt.) They are younger, which is good, and very heavy -- metallic primitif (to ape anthropologist Levi-Strauss) -- and, if they don't stuff cukes and compare lipstick shades backstage, at least they don't glance away, shamed, and declare themselves down-and-out junkie losers in order to pick up chicks. (This "grunge factor" must be the No. 1 occupational hazard if you're making heavy music in the Pacific Northwest.) They just grind. Pure repetitive minimalist riffage, with a fair number of slabbath-style hooks, and, unlike the Melvins -- to whom they are often compared -- they don't bother filling out the low or high end. There's nothing but midrange here. (And no strange drum parts.) Maybe it's just the K production team, or maybe they are trying to sound like a gargantuan "Six Pack"-era Gregg Ginn, back from the punk rock circle of hell.

And Karp's vocals do a lovely job complementing the monolithic guitar: a continual excruciating maniacal screech. "Ding dong! Fucking with your head/ I'm fucking with your head/ Ding dong! Fucking with your head/ I'm fucking with your head." And so it goes throughout "Bastard of Disguise," until the motif resolves four or so minutes later, as you might expect, with "Ding dong the witch is dead." Simultaneously annoying and wry -- a skillful display of self-indulgence, which is important in metal proper (almost as important as filling your stretch limo hot tub full of hard-bodied babes). For elfin humor, check out "D&D Fantasy," with its double-tracked screeching chorus of "Roll on 12-sided dice." Silly indeed. And then there's the truly perspicacious post-Dio goth in "J Is for Genius": "The cauldren's boiling, take your witching stance/ Newt eyes, snails, tails, fingers, knuckles, nails/ ... Witching with the beast. Hex. Hex." OK. So maybe they're not the next Bon Jovi. But they'll definitely do in the interim.

-- Curtis Bonney

Mary J. Blige
Share My World
(MCA)

A mere five years into her career it seems as if there have been more "New Mary J. Bliges" than there were "New Nixons." Whereas Tricky Dick needed constant spin doctoring and revisions to -- wellll -- cover up his past transgressions, Mary J. doesn't. The one we've got works and she really isn't that different from the young woman who burst on the scene singing of "Real Love" not as the fairy-tale conquer-all power but as a redemptive passion. That was a powerful statement in an age where descriptions like "my baby's mom" or "my youngest's father" are commonplace. Although her voice articulated her ideology better than her lyrics, Blige's steadfast belief in the power of romance in the face of daunting realities made her something of a Shawn Colvin from the 'hood.

Mary J. is known as the queen of hip-hop soul. Her work was among the first to combine classic R&B singing with hip-hop beats and street attitude (in the '80s, Janet Jackson merged sampled hip-hop rhythms with R&B vocals, but without the vehemence). Despite the innovations and a string of hit records from her debut, What's the 411, and its follow-up, My Life, she became widely known as a bad girl for her belligerence in interviews. On the Internet, Blige is a favorite whipping girl of most black middle-class newsgroups as she refuses to follow the rules of upward mobility. What isn't understood is that Mary abides by the hip-hop credo of keeping it real. Since 1992, she's been ready for her close-up, even if it's a portrait that the ruling class may not like.

Share My World continues Blige's growing up in public; it's a self-conscious and canny collection of songs. She continues her unwavering faith in love's cathartic force, and she expands her sound. It's her first effort without contribution from Sean Puffy Combs, who produced most of her first two discs. Guest stars like Nas, Babyface, Lil' Kim, and the producing team of Jam and Lewis abound, but Blige's presence unifies the panoply. The songs flow together nicely and the backing is richer and less conspicuously rough or dark. On her best song, "Keep Your Head," she sings:

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