Various Artists
It's Hard to Believe: The Amazing World of Joe Meek
(Razor & Tie)

A pioneer of space-age pop, gay British record producer Joe Meek spent his solitary childhood playing with electronics. As an adult, he plumbed his technical faculties to produce dozens of unique records in the 1950s and '60s (20 of which are compiled on this CD) that reek of his obsessions: outer space, the macabre, and American rock 'n' roll. Employing homemade sound effects, early synthesizers, and audio processing equipment he invented himself, Meek attempted to convey what the future might sound like.

His least successful experiments — those songs most constricted by Top 40 conventions, such as Heinz's 1963 hit “Just Like Eddie” (Cochran, the legendary American rocker) and the naughty “Chick a 'Roo” (1960), sung by bodybuilder Ricky Wayne — are mildly entertaining kitsch. In this category, only Glenda Collins' “Something I've Got to Tell You” (1966), a melodramatic slice of girl-groupish angst with lyrics that beg a gay reading (“There's something I've got to tell you, baby/ Something's giving me hell, baby”), transcends.

But Meek's imagination runs wild with his instrumentals. Inspired by the 1962 launch of the world's first telecommunications satellite, the Tornados' “Telstar” melds all of Meek's trademarks — eerie electronic organ, galloping percussion, atmospheric sound effects — into a minisymphony that still sounds otherworldly today. Earlier, Meek responded to the space race with a 1960 promotion-only album titled I Hear a New World, credited to the Blue Men. The two Blue Men tracks featured here stand light-years ahead of the work of mood instrumentalists like Esquivel, and also reveal much of Meek himself. The characters of his stereo fantasy are the Saroos, “rather sad people … cut off from the rest of the moon … they live and love each other but never leave the valley, for surely they would die”; they're sustained by the Bublight, “a wonderful sight … it casts a magic spell … and safeguards them from evil.”

Meek's personality is further exposed in 1966's “It's Hard to Believe It,” in which singer Glenda Collins complains about the arms race, world hunger, and general social fucked-upness, insisting, with a conspira-torial tone in her voice, that creatures live on the moon. The following year, while obviously teetering on the brink, lawsuits, loneliness, barbiturates, and little blue men finally pushed Meek over the line separating genius from madness. Eight years to the day that his idol Buddy Holly died, Meek shot and killed his elderly landlady during a schizophrenic episode, then committed suicide. Two years later, astronauts discovered no life when they walked on the moon. Meek would have found it hard to believe.

— Jeffery Kennedy

Blue Mountain
Dog Days

Those of us still mourning Uncle Tupelo's breakup have kept our ears peeled for a band with a similar sound: country-tinged rock mixed with straightforward folk, simple songwriting that provides a foil for the hard stuff, an occasional boots-off, feet-up-on-the-back-porch respite from Cop Shoot Cop. Until the arrival of Oxford, Miss., residents Blue Mountain, we'd patched the hole in our CD racks with Neil Young or Johnny Cash.

Though Dog Days marks the band's second full release — third, if you count an incarnation as the Hilltops — Blue Mountain sounds as old as the hills, soothing the ear with a mixture of blues and country, clear harmonies, and folk melodies that linger long after these 55 minutes end. Banjo, mandolin, and harmonica fill out the trio's sound, guitarist Cary Hudson and bassist Laurie Stirrat sharing vocals while Frank Coutch drums. “Let's Ride” is a duet sung over a bluesy, Young-inspired jangle; “Epitaph” is a lonely guitar oasis, Hudson's voice smooth and cool as a bayou wind; and hop-along “Hippy Hotel” bumps lovingly against “Special Rider Blues,” a Pendulum-era Creedence nod that rolls the release to a close like a departing train.

My litter pick, though, is “Wink,” a heartbreakin', hard-drinkin' love song of acoustic guitar and simple chord changes, with lyrics you can almost rhyme the first time you hear it — characteristics that once delivered me to Uncle Tupelo. These musical days, it's refreshing to find a band living “a half-mile from William Faulkner's house” with plenty to say to us urbanites.

— Colin Berry
Blue Mountain opens for the Jayhawks Fri, Oct. 20, at the Fillmore in S.F.; call 346-6000.

Boss Hog
Boss Hog

The youthful demands of extremists inevitably make way for at least a little bit of compromise. Who would've guessed that the rock saboteurs of the Pussy Galore family tree would come to achieve so much recognition outside the artfuck scene? (For that matter, who would've guessed that the artfuck scene itself would be welcomed in places where you can't even say the term out loud?)

Jon Spencer is a well-placed hair away from becoming the next pinup idol; Neil Hagerty's Royal Trux is writing songs with recognizable structure; and now Cristina Martinez's Boss Hog has undergone a David Geffen makeover — with satisfying results. A follow-up to 1993's Girl+, this self-titled disc was produced by Pell Mell's Steve Fisk, who dances deftly between staying out of the band's way and stepping in to make appealing textural suggestions.

Though the sometimes singly-dubbed Cristina is the ostensible leader of the band, it's tough to assess Boss Hog without weighing husband Spencer's contribution a bit heavily; his goofy petition to “break dance!” on “White Sand” nearly steals the show. Still, Boss Hog is distinguished by elements only Cristina could have brought to the studio, like the faux-Ronettes backing vocals of “I Idolize You” and the Kim Gordon-ish class cutdown of “Ski Bunny.” Her “Texas” is one of the record's least likely moments, a horror chamber string piece that posits an emotionless Throwing Muses.

Like the Beastie Boys' Ill Communication, some of the> finest moments here (“Try One”; “Punkture”) occur mostly instrumentally. Many other tracks feature the stripped-down bass-note guitar lines of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and his trademark mush-mouthed soul-logic. The high point of this project is the duet “I Dig You”: “I dig your groovy hips,” Spencer exults to his wife; “I dig your barbecue lips,” she responds. Don't they make just the cutest couple?

— James Sullivan

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