Reviews

The Bevis Frond
Vavona Burr
(Flydaddy)

The greatest thing about Nick Saloman's one-man band, the Bevis Frond, is that it exists. The entity keeps making records -- every damn one of the 16 made in the last 10 years is a modern psychedelic masterstroke -- despite the public's lack of interest. God bless him. Them. Whomever.

Incorporating all the best elements of rock from the '60s to the '90s -- from jangle and distortion to heart-wrenching love songs and note-bending nonsense -- his latest expedition is no exception. Saloman is a musical freak -- one of those guys who literally makes records in a bedroom studio he calls "The Bedroom," and the album credits read "All Songs by Nick Saloman; All instruments and vocals by NS; Produced by NS."

But far from being the stereotypical self-absorbed one-man-band-who-does-it-all-even-though-he-can't-really-play-drums, Saloman is a man obsessed, calling forth the spirit of his spiritual brethren (Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Cream, all things acid-trippy, noisy, San Franciscan, and out-there), and he gets it right. He is also the publisher of a journal devoted to similar phenomenon, Ptolemaic Terrascope, which presents more evidence of his peculiar madness.

Opening track "The Frond Cheer," a take-off on the old "Fish Cheer" ("Gimme an F ..."), features the only other musician on the record, Country Joe McDonald. (He led that famous cheer at Woodstock; not coincidentally, he is another guy who lives in his own bubble.) But Saloman does the modern thing by manipulating the responses to the call in the form of sampling and tweaking. Saloman's also a popmeister who's written jangle-rock songs for Mary Lou Lord, but at other times it sounds as if he's from Minneapolis circa 1984, playing rough-edged rhythm guitar and singing in a Bob Mould-y voice on the anti-love song "Couldn't Care Less." Then he'll go and get all drippy-olde-folk on the wistful "To the Lighthouse."

Yet at the end of his day, it's all about the guitar, from meandering solos hidden inside persistent melodies, to completely gonzo Crazy Horse leads ("Leave a Light On"). "Temple Falls" hovers dangerously close to "Tales of Brave Ulysses." Sometimes there's more than one kind of solo: On "To the Lighthouse," Saloman plays his own psychedelic Doublemint twin. On the final eight-minute opus, "Begging Bowl," just fuhgeddabout him holding back. Maybe wine or weed connoisseurs find joy in their special crops the way others find joy in the Bevis Frond: Something so fabulously delicious and heady seems too good to be true.

-- Denise Sullivan

The Chemical Brothers
Surrender
(Astralwerks)

The second British Invasion hasn't been about pop music for quite some time now. The shoegazing wall of fuzz era of the late '80s and early '90s with its lanky shy guys, shaggy Beatles-esque hairdos, and guitars has fizzled, while the big, glorious Manchester pop sound of bands like Pulp, Blur, and Oasis is losing its level of recognition. Scooter-riding mod kids are left to bounce around to the same Supergrass record for years to come.

The newer sound complements England's growing club scene, and has replaced moppy-headed pop waifs with production geeks who sport turntables and sound boards instead of guitars. Among these electro-tech musicians were Manchester's Dust Brothers. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, after changing their name to the Chemical Brothers, introduced their sound stateside in 1995 with their debut, Exit Planet Dust, a conglomeration of techno breakbeats and eclectic Funkadelic styles. And ingenuity too: Adding vocals from unlikely acts like neo-folkie Beth Orton and Charlatans U.K.'s Tim Burgess, they transcended basic club house and techno music. For their second album, Dig Your Own Hole, the Brothers took another innovative step, adding melodies so catchy that even NARAS had to pay attention: "Block Rockin' Beats" won a 1997 Grammy for best rock instrumental.

By doing a little recycling, Surrender is downright listener-friendly, a hybrid of sounds from old pop sensations merged with Rowlands and Simons' repetitive beats. It plays almost like a history lesson -- or a various-artists soundtrack, considering the long list of guest appearances, from New Order's Bernard Sumner, Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, Noel Gallagher of Oasis, and Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev. Surrender has all the characteristics of a dance record, but the fluctuating moods of a pop record: It shifts from ballads to tracks complete with lyrics, melodies, and hooks. The first single, "Let Forever Be," with Gallagher on vocals, is a straight pop song, borrowing heavily from the Charlatans U.K., not to mention the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows."

In contrast, the eight-minute "The Sunshine Underground" completely forgets the upbeat tempo, dropping unexpectedly into a swirly psychedelia, and "Asleep for a Day" revolves around Sandoval's sultry vocals to create a ballad that's at once beautiful and jarring. The club tracks remain: "Under the Influence" and "Out of Control" are designed strictly for the dance floor. But in its texture, variety, and willingness to draw from a wide pop spectrum, Surrender becomes much more.

-- Katie Zarling

 
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