Thursday, July 22, 2004
Empire Strikes First | Epitaph
Like the mini-malls that dot their Los Angeles-area homebase, Bad Religion can be incredibly unvarying on every release. Each CD, like each mall, is composed of the identical components—in the case of the band, it would be the tight harmonies, two-step beats, quasi-anthemic choruses and left wing polemics. But as the occasional mini-mall sports the occasional surprise (an ethnic restaurant treasure or a bizarre clothing shop) so does Bad Religion shock us on this new one.
Better-than-ever songwriting, with a clever instrumental kicking off the whole shebang, plus new beats in the form of a straight-up Ramones cop or two, a semi-Celtic jig, and strangest of all, a jangling guitar that underpins “Los Angeles Is Burning,” makes this a step above their normal fare.
Yes, Greg Graffin’s vocals still reek of dusty lecture
halls, and it is heaven on earth when guest Sage Francis loans
his pipes to the proceedings, but this is a fine outing loaded
with muscle, clearer melodies and less burlesqued anger. Not
the same ole same ole this time around. (JA)
Live in Tasmania | Takoma Records
John Fahey’s albums of the late ‘70s and ‘80s feature some of the worst cover art. The cover of 1984’s Let Go is a confetti-sprinkled snapshot of the bearded, transient-looking Fahey hanging deliriously on a chain-link fence. This and other design mistakes may be why this period of Fahey’s work has never become very successful with his younger fans who find it difficult to pay full price for albums that are old, obscure, and ugly—even if remastered for CD.
But in spite of their visual deficiencies, these records contain some of Fahey’s finest guitar work. They find him playing with total facility and using his past as the basis for further compositional innovation.
Live in Tasmania is no exception. Its new-agey, pastel
cover is sharply offset by its brilliant musical content.
Fahey’s first live recorded show and the first major recording
by an international artist in Tasmania, this 1981 live record
captures a perfect performance—something rare for Fahey who
almost always took the stage drunk and whose live performances
were often as erratic as they were infrequent. (MB)
Rare Elements: Ustad Sultan Khan | 5 Points Records
This compilation presents Ustad Sultan Khan’s, classical Indian music transformed into hip, accessible hi-fi grooves.
Khan’s sound lends itself surprisingly well to the remixes—on the first track, “Aja Maji,” which opens directly with Khan singing a capella, the melody builds itself around the hypnotic vocals and creates a soothing, eastern-tinged downtempo track. Several more mellow tracks follow, leading into the album’s centerpiece, Ralphi Rosario’s club-anthem interpretation of “Maula.” The furious house tempo invokes the hard-edged pace of an Indian Raga, while Khan’s wailing Sarangi drives the melody.
Even more impressive than the individual songs, however, is the arrangement of the compilation. From “Tarana,” each subsequent track slowly builds in intensity, ultimately culminating in “Maula,” and finally tapering off with the calmness of Brainpolluter’s “Caravan.” The album’s swells and flows are so seamless that you hardly notice the changes in style until you’re caught up in the heat of each song. Such fine production is a rare element indeed. (BS)