Reviews

The Monorchid
Who Put Out the Fire?
(Touch and Go)

The existential angst of ineffectual white males is well past new or interesting. The flood of emotional navel-gazing drenching the world of indie rock is a scourge of banal personal misery made public. The Monorchid seemed to exist only to disparage that woe-is-me world. The now-defunct Washington, D.C., punk band used frustrated invectives against rock music and youth culture's loss of vitality to befuddle audiences. The Monorchid were pissed off, sure, but they did something interesting with the exhausted punk formula -- they replaced it with urgent, charismatic, and living sounds.

On this 11-song posthumous recording, the Monorchid squirrel away vicious hooks, then let them rip as aberrant and mutated guitar rock. The group formed after the breakup of vocalist Chris Thomson and guitarist Chris Hamley's highly regarded Dischord Records band Circus Lupus, whose Jesus Lizard-meets-Public Image, Ltd. sound seemed anachronistic compared with the simpering punk of the early '90s. The Monorchid improved upon Circus Lupus' post-punk formula and released a slew of singles following their start in 1995. Early in 1997, their debut album, Let Them Eat ..., was issued as a split-label release by D.C. indie-stalwarts Simple Machines and Dischord. The quintet then took to the road for six weeks, and returned home to record this serrated final album.

Who Put Out the Fire? starts with "X Marks the Spot: Something Dull Happened Here," smearing Thompson's antagonized sneer atop a syncopated drum 'n' bass pattern; chirpy guitars barbed-wire it all together. The twisting and twining six-strings of Andy Cone and Hamley play off one another in the ringing tones and biting fuzz. On "Beard of Bees," the guitarists trade staggering lines and swooning string bends around the lurching and lunging rhythm section. "The Warmers" combines the epileptic-seizure guitar solos and single-note riffs of Black Flag with the steamrolling rhythmic shuffle of Motsrhead.

"Alias Directory" is the Monorchid's most apparent step into pop territory, bursting into the three-chord power-pop of the Kinks' classic "All Day and All of the Night." Drummer Tom Allnutt stomps out the backbeat and bassist Andy Coronado thwacks an urgent swing. Thompson's spittle-soaked vocals bemoan the scene-politics pitted against them: "Could the message be clearer, or the finger-pointing nearer?/ First they steal my thunder, now they want my organs."

Whoever put out the fire missed these smoldering embers.
-- Dave Clifford

DMX
It's Dark and Hell Is Hot
(Def Jam)

It's impossible to discuss DMX's long-awaited and phenomenally successful debut recording without first addressing the rape charges brought against him last month. Although the charges are quite serious, his response to the accusation speaks well of him. He has defended his character, pointed out that he was out of town at the time of the crime, and volunteered to submit a DNA sample. (His reaction is far better than the one given by Tupac Shakur, who defended himself against 1993 rape charges by claiming that the woman had it coming.) Until all the evidence is presented, I'm going to play like the courts and presume DMX (ne Earl Simmons) innocent.

Then again, on It's Dark and Hell Is Hot -- which took many observers by surprise when it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts in late May (without a peep from Master P and only a trace of Puffy on the disc) -- he raps, "If you got a daughter older than 15/ I'ma rape her/ Take her right there on the living room floor/ In front of ya." That -- from the song "X-Is Coming" -- is just one of several aggressive male personas on It's Dark. Songs like "Crime Story" and "ATF" are pure pulp fictions about criminal intentions, illegal actions, and crooks on the run.

In "Crime Story," a jailhouse daydream, DMX raps, "Put a harness on the dogs/ Load up the weapons/ Murder's on my mind/ Ain't no half-steppin'." And on "ATF" he raps, "Cops on every corner/ I lay back and try an' cruise by/ Who the fuck snitched?!/ It musta been the new guy." These are not the recollections of a criminal, but the work of someone who grew up watching Scorsese gangster epics, blaxploitation films, and kung fu classics.

In defense of "X-Is Coming," DMX claimed that those were not his words, but the words of the song's character. And I guess I believe that too. Not because I'm a hip-hop apologist (middle-class vaguely boho blacks like me have just as many issues with hip hop's narrow concept of "real blackness" as we do with C. Delores Tucker's black puritanism), but I believe it because in the end the record bears the man out.

The tracks are backed with a mix of funky, mostly obscure samples. DMX's flow and writing style show elements of LL Cool J, Tupac's brighter moments, Keith Murray, and Raekwon: The album feels like a piece by someone who has done his homework. Although it's his debut recording, DMX is not exactly a newcomer. The Yonkers-based rapper was originally signed to Columbia in 1992. After years of waiting in line, he got tired and won a release from his contract. That makes DMX part of the next wave of rappers like Killah Priest, Mos Def, McGruff, and Kid Capri, who all grew up with hip hop as a well-established genre. Rather than cling to a single style, they draw on a variety of influences to create something new. It bodes well for the next chapter in hip hop, as long as the law remains a fictional part of the game.

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