A quick computer update first.
So I finally get in touch with Dave, our friendly neighborhood computer technician, who always sounds like he’s just downed a big fat bag of weed. Dave isn’t much on interpersonal communication, but he knows his shit, or so I’ve been assured. Thus, with all the positive thinking I can muster, I hand Dave the broken old hard drive like a ritual sacrifice and say, “Do your thing.”
Hours later, Dave is still kneeled over the scattered carcass of my computer, muttering to himself. Occasionally I can make out phrases, none of them comforting: “I was afraid of that,” or, “This isn’t too good.” I start pacing like an expectant father, until finally, Dave looks up and, with a sad voice, proclaims the computer “broken.” Dave then proceeds to call technical support, which doesn’t fill me with all the confidence in the world.
Long story short, we’re going to try replacing the mother board and see if that works. Then we’re going to attack the old computer with a sledge hammer and just buy another one. Either way, it looks like Sunday columns for a while yet. Stifle your cries of dismay, faithful readers. Neither Dave nor I want to hear them.
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Some upcoming items of interest:
New Hampshire’s best band, the superb Say ZuZu, has a new album out called Every Mile. With any luck, it will be the subject of next week’s review. If you’ve never heard this band, your first stop on www.sayzuzu.com should be to purchase their terrific fourth album, Bull. To my ears, it’s the best alternative country album since Uncle Tupelo broke up. If Every Mile is as good, I’ll be thrilled, and you’ll read it here first.
Speaking of alt-country, and of Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy’s band Wilco has finally secured a U.S. release date for their fourth album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. As you may have heard, the album was rejected by Reprise Records for being “too musically adventurous,” whatever the hell that means. Advance reports are calling it alternately a masterpiece and a pile of cow puckey, with some pundits proclaiming that it will kill their career. For music fans that enjoy risky works, this news is thrilling beyond measure. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot will be out on Nonesuch Records on April 23.
Finally, Mark Eitzel, the saddest man in music, returns on April 9 with an album called Courage and Confidence. Before you start to think that he’s taken those patented Robert Smith happy pills, you should know that it’s a covers album. It’s so Mark Eitzel to only be able to find courage and confidence in other people’s songs. More on this soon.
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The Chemical Brothers are an odd case. They hit huge in 1996 with Dig Your Own Hole, and then rapidly proceeded to take their album title’s advice, producing work that veered sharply away from the club-happy beats of their first couple of albums. They’re known primarily as an electronica act, and if I can pause for one second, I’d express how much I vehemently despise that appellation. We’re so concerned with putting music in compact little boxes that we lump everyone who uses programmed synthesizers into one category. The sub-categories (jungle, house, trance, etc.) are not any better, either.
That’s why the Chemical Brothers are to be treasured. They have complete disdain for those little boxes, breaking them down as often as possible. Dig Your Own Hole was praised for its single-minded sonic warping, but also for its willingness to add live vocals, guitars and violins to an otherwise computerized mix. To my mind, the Chems are no more an electronica group than the Beastie Boys are a rap outfit. It’s all about tearing down myopic boundaries.
The sad fact is that the further the Brothers move away from the repetitive thudding of their roots, the fewer albums they sell. Case in point: In 1999, the Brothers released Surrender, the culmination of a bunch of melodic paths they’d been taking for years. It was the first ’60s-influenced psychedelic dance album, simply drowned in backwards soundscapes and heavenly guitar. It was a pulsating wonderland, and it sold for shit. The legions of fans who came aboard with “Block Rockin’ Beats” dove overboard and swam for shore as if there were sharks on their tails.
Undaunted, the Brothers (Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, totally unrelated) have pressed on and released the second ’60s-influenced psychedelic dance album with Come With Us. God bless ’em, because this disc is more of the same ecstatic boundary-pushing that they’ve been doing all along, and it probably won’t make a blip on the sales charts.
That’s not important, though. What is important is that once you get through the opening trilogy (a somewhat loose assemblage of beats and samples that recalls their early work), the remainder of Come With Us is a mind-altering psychosphere of joy. Blissful synths sit alongside trumpets, guitars and enough backwards tape looping to drive John Lennon’s ghost mad, and it all works. Call it flower power trance dance absurdica, or whatever you like. No one in this field is making records quite like this.
Come With Us offers the Chems’ fourth collaboration with the amazing Beth Orton, on “The State We’re In,” a melancholy and atmospheric piece. They also close the record with “The Test,” a rambling, overjoyed set piece for The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft that has some fans up in arms. Those same fans, however, decried similar collaborations with Noel Gallagher (“Setting Sun”) and Johnny Marr (“Out of Control”), and have been resistant to any hint of change.
Well, the hell with them. The Chemical Brothers know that music has to change. They’re in the vanguard of artists that, for the majority of the ’90s, have been smashing the boundaries that marketing and demographic research has placed on music. Yeah, Come With Us can be seen as just another Chemical Brothers album, only building slightly on the last one, but in truth, they’re just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to their expansive vision. They want you along for the ride, not watching from the side of the road. Why else would they have called the album Come With Us?
Next week, hopefully Say ZuZu.
See you in line Tuesday morning.