Art of Noise – The Seduction of Claude Debussy

Art of Noise
Artist: Art of Noise
Title: The Seduction of Claude Debussy
Label: Universal
Rating: 7.5/10

“Music is not just the expression of a feeling – it is the feeling itself.” Claude Debussy was definitely on to something when he made that statement nearly a century ago. Art of Noise must have thought so; they have devoted their entire new release to his memory. The Seduction of Claude Debussy is original, to say the least. It is an eclectic mix of classical sounds with a touch of operatic vocals and even rap and a spoken word narrative thrown in. While not a disc for everyone, Art of Noise deserves praise, if for nothing else, for having the guts to put out a disc that so deviates from the norm. They strive for something more than the standard Top 40 pop song.

I am not even going to pretend to know what they were thinking during the production of this cd, though. The Seduction of Claude Debussy is described as “featuring the dream life of Claude Debussy as a metaphor for what a difference a century makes and the real life of art of noise as a metaphor for the fantasy life of a pop group.” Sure. The liner notes are quite cryptic and undecipherable at times as well. For example, the “Extract from a novelisation of the film that doesn’t exist of the seduction of Claude Debussy.”

However, it is the music that matters the most, and to simply say that it is unique would be a gross understatement. This is not an album you can jam to, or one that will tug at your heartstrings, or one that will get you moving in the morning. It is definitely mood music; something you’d pop in when you’re in a pensive state of mind. Otherwise, listening would take a great deal of patience.

Right away you realize you’re venturing into uncharted territory. You first hear John Hurt telling you to “imagine an actor saying the following” Add Sally Bradshaw’s soprano over a drum machine after the Enya-like introduction. It makes for an interesting and enjoyable initiation into the world of Art of Noise.

What they appear to be going for, much like Debussy himself, is the creation of feeling by telling his story. They do it well. For example, “Born on a Sunday” evokes the beginning of life and the excitement it brings with a faster, more energized beat, whereas “On Being Blue” naturally has a more melancholy, minor key sound.

They also have a few guests featured throughout the disc. Donna Lewis lends her voice to “Dreaming in Color” and quite a few tracks feature the hip-hop vocals of Rakim.

The Seduction of Claude Debussy exhibits the work of some very creative minds. It is not something that can be truly appreciated by everyone, nor is it something that can be fully explained. As the French poet Charles Baudelaire is quoted as saying: “In music, and in painting, even in the written word, there is always a gap, to be bridged by the imagination of the hearer.”

+ julie pecoraro

Aqua – Aquarius

Artist: Aqua
Title: Aquarius
Label: MCA
Rating: 5.5/10

Aqua is the band most of us love to hate. Do you know what did it? It was that unlikely, annoying hit single “Barbie Girl”. They’ve been marked for certain as one-hit-wonders, but they’re back and apparently getting better.

“Cartoon Heroes” begins with helium-voiced Lene Hedin Nystrom and deep-voiced Rene Dif. On occasion, Lene will sound like that punk princess Gwen Steffani (No Doubt). While this track is silly as hell, it’s also really entertaining and infectious. It’s just as Lene sings, “Don’t take us all too serious.”

Even though I’m two seconds from digging a hole and sticking my head in it for admitting I like this track, I continue on.

“Around The World” isn’t too damn bad either. “We Belong To The Sea” might be the best track as Lene gets a bit more serious, and it suits her. I could see her being a huge success as a solo artist.

But finally, the letdown you knew had to come does. When Aqua relies on the clich, they are extremely annoying, enough so to make you want to vomit. Listen to “Freaky Friday”, “An Apple A Day”, and “Halloween”. Pure torture.

But Aqua has the ability to sound as professional as a Disney soundtrack, in a good way, with giant orchestration and power. “Aquarius” is made for Disney. It soars higher than any track and proves these guys can get serious and sound like a real outfit.

The best thing about Aqua is the power of Claus and Soeren who write the music. The dance rhythms are so powerful that you often forget the weak lyrics. The music makes the songs go down like candy while the lyrics are often like jawbreakers. Good or bad, Aqua is fun.

+ rae gun

Sammy Hagar – Red Voodoo

Sammy Hagar
Artist: Sammy Hagar
Title: Red Voodoo
Label: MCA
Rating: 6/10

The way I see it, Sammy Hagar is the man who ruined Van Halen (let us forget for the moment that right now David Lee Roth is balding and pathetic while Sammy here still seems to be rocking strong). It is a small grade-school grudge that I have not been able to move beyond, however, I am trying to put the past behind me and give this album a fair listen.

After some touring in Australia and Guam, Sammy Hagar and his band, The Waboritas, have come back to the States to put out eleven tracks of good old- fashioned rock and roll in the form of Red Voodoo. The album starts out with “Mas Tequila,” a song that (I am hesitant to admit this) I was singing along with on the radio before I even knew that it was Mr. Hagar. I think most rock stars out there will agree with me when I say that this song deals with a very important subject: driving south of the border to drink copious amounts of tequila. “Red Voodoo,” the title track from this album, is a fast paced ditty about hot peppers and pretty girls, another important staple in your rock diet. The Waboritas slow things down a bit with “Lay Your Hands On Me”. This is where the album starts to lose it. The slow rock ballad just is not working for them. In a song or two though they are back on track with “Don’t Fight It (Feel It)”. With a slide guitar and some horns, they add a little something extra that gives a blues quality to their music.

These guys seem to be stuck on some permanent spring break, and their music reflects it. This album is full of fun, feel-good music. They could have left out the slower tunes, but overall, this is good rock and roll.

+ Kevin Cousins

Buck-O-Nine – Libido

Artist: Buck-O-Nine
Title: Libido
Label: TVT
Rating: 6/10

As the 90’s come to a close, it would seem appropriate to leave behind the fads that graced the decade and move on to something original, whether it’s by a new group or one that already knows the ropes. Buck-O-Nine’s 1999 release, Libido, has all of the elements of past fads, rarely displaying anything new in their sound. The up and down punk-styled ska-core band seldom shows any marked improvement on their latest release, as most of the songs sound very similar to their last album, as well as other ska outfits that keep putting out uninspiring discs for kids to buy.

Although the production on Libido is great, it falls short in the creativity department. The simple reggae-like tone present in every song makes for one monotonous album. The exception has to be “Falling Back to Sleep”, as it picks up speed and aggression and drowns out the common weaknesses of most ska bands today. “Headlines” has a smooth vocal sound and more emotion is presented, while the horn section leans on a funkier sound that isn’t heard anywhere else on the disc. “A Lot in My Head” grooves as well and sounds like the early Chili Peppers with a little horn added for flavor. Beside these three standouts, the tracks tend to blend together, sounding similar in every aspect, including vocals, brass, and guitar structure.

There would be little noise about this release if it weren’t for a few thousand ska-freaks that’ll snatch up anything that sounds like the rest of their collection. The disc is good, but it just doesn’t capture any feeling like great music should. Maybe the evolution of ska-core has finally reached its limit…about three years ago.

+ rick hinkson

Built To Spill – Keep It Like Secret

Built To Spill
Artist: Built To Spill
Title: Keep It Like Secret
Label: Warner Bros.
Rating: 6/10

Hasn’t the world declared alternative rock dead? Not according to Built To Spill. From behind the stinging guitar and brushed snare comes their latest musical composition, Keep It Like A Secret. Singer/guitarist Doug Martsch isn’t concerned about whether this album falls into the pop or alternative categories; his only goal is in making a musical vision come to fruition. Objective accomplished.

Built To Spill plays music that doesn’t fit any one classification. Martsch’s layered guitar solos display his unusual squelching busyness. On the surface the sounds seems disorganized and trite, but if you listen closely you’ll notice that Martsch has complete control over the intense movements.

It’s all in the verses.

His rambled dreaminess provides the framework for Built To Spill’s latest composition. Through soft vocal twists and ingenious story lines, Martsch purges his soul.

“Center Of The Universe” is too Weezer for even Weezer, but has a peculiar quirkiness that is pleasing in its obscurity. “Sidewalk” marches along the unbeaten path of buzzing sonic bliss. While “Bad Light” opens with a blaring repeated riff that shines throughout the song’s chorus, “Broken Chair” is Martsch’s chance to revisit his love for jamming. The solos are lush, but lean, paying homage to Seattle’s passing musical fossils.

“You Were Right” is a walk through a rock lexicon of song titles from the world’s biggest bands: Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Segar. “You were wrong when you said everything is going to be alright/ You were right when you said all that glitters isn’t gold/ You were right when you said all we are is dust in the wind/ You were right when you said we’re all just bricks in the wall/ And when you said manic depression’s a frustrated mess/ You were right when you said you can’t always get what you want/ You were right when you said we are still running against the wind/ Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone/ You were right when you said/ This is the end.”

+ rae gun

Swimmer – Surreal

Artist: Swimmer
Title: Surreal
Label: Maverick
Rating: 8/10

Swimmer grows on you like a wonderful rash. The release of their album was delayed for a month and that worked out perfectly for me since it allowed me time to realize how great this disc is. Swimmer isn’t the kind of band that you get right away; you need to give them a chance. If you do, you’ll find out that Surreal is an amazing piece of music. While it is often dark and melancholy, it still produces highs that will have you floating from note to note.

Swimmer has a fabulously distinct vocalist, Anday Maccarron. He fronts Swimmer with a crunch in his voice and absolute emotion that will blow you away. No song goes on too long; if anything, they end too soon. Listen to the first track, “Surreal”, and you’ll know exactly what I’m saying. The vocals dig into your skin like a needle that never seems to find the right vein. And what is wonderful about this album is that it doesn’t fall off after the first track. “Dumb” follows “Surreal” and proves this point. The lyrics are powerful and numbing. “Sorry if we seem unkind/ guess we’re not bleeding your way/ you’re a blind man feeding the blind/ I think you better wake up and say/ God is so dumb”. “Dirty Word” is more of the same. This song may actually find its way onto radio. It boasts a great bass line and a wonderful chorus.

The album is amazing. Maybe it would be easier telling you what isn’t good about it. Well, I haven’t found a chink yet, but I can say that every song is a different ride through the mind of Maccarron. It’s full of highs, lows, and all that comes in between. One definitive low comes in the form of “It’s So Perfect”. Suicide is the topic and it isn’t taken lightly. The song has a reverse climax with strings accompanying Maccarron’s verses and only an acoustic guitar protecting his sheltered chorus.

“Playing Jesus” continues to tear at Maccarron’s troubled faith. “You’re playing Jesus but you don’t know how/ I guess you’re better being that way”. The album is troubling and honest. It finds its way, probing into the inner workings of the mind. Swimmer isn’t just a curiosity; they are a band to be reckoned with.

+ charles craine