Lori Carson
Where It Goes

Lori Carson has spent the past several years as the leading chanteuse in the Golden Palominos, unleashing her seductive vocal stylings in that band's mutated sonic realm of ambient/funk/dance. So the music on her solo Where it Goes comes as quite a surprise, albeit a pleasant one. On these 10 songs, Carson affects an understated singer/songwriter pose, somewhat reminiscent of Cindy Lee Berryhill and early period Michelle Shocked. Carson's voice possesses a light, airy quality, wavering on selected notes, yet still managing a degree of strength and forcefulness. Accompanied largely by piano, Carson sings about dreams, faith, love, and life. Her music is instilled with a fleeting romantic quality, a delicate, warm simplicity that was commonplace years ago but has since become rare. “Down Here” sets the tone, Carson's powerful wisp of a voice dominating a sparse musical background as she sings about “real love” and “peace of mind.” The rest of the release, for the most part, follows suit. But “You Won't Fall” ups the ante with full, rich production, and “Anyday” has Carson picking up the guitar to deliver a bittersweet bite of ambient folk. Kudos to producer (and Golden Palomino head honcho) Anton Fier for a relaxed production and subtle ambient texturing that allows Carson to shine. Goes is a beautiful backdrop for late-night philosophical pondering and Sunday morning sunrises.

— spence d.
Lori Carson opens for Chris Whitley Fri, July 21, at the Bottom of the Hill in S.F.; call 626-4455.

Delusions of Grandeur

The “brothers” Hardkiss have already earned their due respect in the Bay Area by hosting several extraordinary dance/music gatherings, running their own groundbreaking independent label, and delivering a line of seamless techno-tinted compositions and remixes via the 12-inch or underground mix-tape. Now comes the proper digital debut, Delusions of Grandeur, a two-disc collection showcasing the finest, all-samples-cleared cuts from the Hardkiss stable. Included in the pack are dizzying excursions from Rabbit in the Moon, the Drum Club, and a handful of Hardkiss pseudonyms.

Delusions of Grandeur is frightening in its scope, combining all the excitement and vision most hastily contrived techno compilations plainly lack. Hardkiss may have been born out of the world of strobing lights, gyrating booties, and throbbing speakers, but the brothers' sights are set far above the weekender pack. Grandeur is a versatile work, as capable of causing serious uproar on the dance floor as it is sending a listener into orbit through a pair of headphones.

Rabbit in the Moon's two contributions (alternate mixes of “Out of Body Experience”) are blissfully fragmented, tying together easy piano melodies, ethereal soundbites, and grand electronic sweeps. God Within's (aka Scott Hardkiss) cuts are epic, to say the least. Layered with spiraling grooves, relentless beats, and awe-inspiring breaks, “Raincry,” “Daylight,” and “The Phoenix” are truly monumental. Disc 2 is launched by a dreamy threesome courtesy of Hawke (aka Gavin Hardkiss); “3 Nudes in a Purple Garden,” “Pacific Coast Highway No. 1,” and “3 Nudes (Having Sax on Acid)” lean more toward the ambient side of the spectrum, driven by riveting beats and bewildering soundscapes. But the mellower pace doesn't undermine the music's vitality. Similarly, Little Wing (aka Robbie Hardkiss) closes the set with three cuts that find their poison in melody and mood rather than volume. Gate-crashing styles and catapulting electronic music into the stratosphere, Grandeur is crucial listening. (Hardkiss, 2215-R Market, Suite 836, San Francisco, CA 94114)

— Aidin Vaziri

(Normal Records)

Just across the Mississippi from New Orleans, in a sleepy outpost called Algiers, is Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World, a warehouse where artists work year-round on parade floats. Out back, near the river's edge, lies a creeping scrap heap of retired float sections, dominated by oversize gator parts and the remains of a Statue of Liberty replica — her head, one arm. When I lived in N'Orleans, I took a picture of that eerie scene, which is now hanging on my living room wall. As I unfolded the artwork to Soundproof, the Snowmen's new import CD, I was amazed to see — the same photo! Well, not quite. This one's in color.

A facile literary parallel is aching to be drawn, but that don't get it in describing the release. One-time Barbara Manning cohort Cole Marquis has his newest Bay Area group liberally borrowing ideas, yes, but they're no carbon copies. Actually recorded in late 1993, Soundproof melds the best of radio-friendly slash-and-burn with a washing undercurrent of psychedelia and simple, hypnotically repetitive guitar figures. “Magic 8-Ball” and “Soundtrack for Drunken Taxis” are trancelike, “V-8 Vega” has the adrenaline of a hairpin turn, and “Girl Don't Tell Me” is an early Brian Wilson number reconstituted as scuzz-pop. Marquis' plain-spoken vocals are a welcome departure from the throbbing emotion of so many guitar-band frontmen, while the group's tempo and texture changes make Soundproof a thoroughly engrossing listen. Final note: Check the automobile imagery (all highly appropriate, I might add) of the Volta single “Rent-a-Car Baby,” “Backseat Driver,” “Drive Blind,” etc. (Normal Records, Bonner Talweg 276, 53129, Bonn, Germany)

— James Sullivan
The Snowmen open for Clarke Nova Sun, July 23, at the Bottom of the Hill; call 626-4455.

Smoking Popes
Born to Quit

Though the Smoking Popes are being marketed as the latest up-to-the-minute pop punkers, half the songs on Born to Quit, the band's major-label debut, are what used to be called “heartland rock,” about as straight-up and midtempo as it comes. Which isn't to diminish the Popes' credibility — this is a criminally catchy quartet. From the way-west suburbs of Chicago, the Caterer brothers (Josh, Matt, Eli) and neighborhood drummer Mike Felumlee range in age from 20 to 24, four butt-smoking dorks with buzz cuts and button-down collars. Like most good garage bands, their songs are tunes, as in “tuneful melodies.” “Need You Around,” the first single, is a horse race of rock rhythm incongruously led by Josh Caterer's half-speed, woebegone warble. Other songs similarly address love interests; one's named “Rubella,” and another posits a “Mrs. You and Me.” If the Popes' repertoire is predictable, at least it's filler-free (at 28 minutes long, Quit better be). It's also funny. With Felumlee's crashing timekeeping and the guitarists' Ramones-y dumbing down, the band mugs for the narrator of “Just Broke Up” in a parody of the conventional brokenhearted lament. Conversely, “On the Shoulder” is sincerely wistful, in a power-ballad sort of way. Much has been made of the damage America's suburbs do to our culture. Unpretentious and not too smarmy, neither under- nor overachievers, the Smoking Popes are what's right about the 'burbs.

— James Sullivan
Smoking Popes open for the Goo Goo Dolls Thurs, July 20, at Slim's in S.F.; call 621-3330.

Common People
(Island U.K. CD single)

Sexual politics and style dominate current U.S. punk; class critiques are rare. Same goes for Britain; the late '70s and early '80s saw many clever lyricists (Costello, Weller, Morrissey) engage the effect of money and status on modern life, but today, U.K. rockers both major and indie are content if they merely succeed at rhyming. In this context, Pulp's “Common People” isn't just a great pop song, it's a radical one. And apparently the single has struck a long-neglected chord: It entered the U.K. charts at No. 2.

In “Common People,” the song's poor, male narrator runs into a rich lass from Greece. She says she wants “to live like common people,” so he lists some “common” things she can do: rent a flat, get a job, pretend she never went to school. The thing is, he tells her, “You'll never get it right/ 'Cos when you're laid in bed at night/ Watching roaches climb the wall/ If you called your dad, he could stop it all.”

The Roxy Music behind these lyrics is glossy and grandiose. Lead singer Jarvis Cocker whimpers like a low-rent Bryan Ferry on too much speed, while producer Chris Thomas gradually introduces chugging, glowing keyboards into the mix. Once the song reaches epic size, it becomes part anthem, part taunt: “You'll never fail like common people/ You'll never watch your life slide out of view/ And dance and drink and screw/ Because there's nothing else to do.” As the sound grows faster and louder, the words get catchier and crueler: “Laugh along with the common people … even though they're laughing at you/ And the stupid things you do/ Because you think that poor is cool.”

Though, in time-honored rock tradition, “Common People” mocks a dumb, fickle female, its bitter wit applies to other pop-cultural tourists — suburban boys into gangsta rap, rich kids slumming as punks — just as well. Urging the listener to “sing along with the common people,” the song's final lines are an ironic observation about consumer cannibalism: The rich emulate the poor by buying “street” products, while the poor yearn for the luxuries of affluence. Add a B-side (“Underwear”) that confirms Cocker's rep as pop's most honest pervert, and you have a single that's richer than most albums this year.

— Johnny Ray Huston

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