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March 12, 2003 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2003-03-12

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March 12, 2003



By Zac Peskowitz
Daily Arts Writer
In an effort so feeble that it may
not even win him the respect of
Michael Bolton fans among the Wal-
Mart set, Edwin McCain's latest
album, The Austin Sessions, is a
morass of forlorn lyrics, incoherent
instrumentation and syrupy
melodies. In McCain's homage to
the Southland's musical heritage, the
leitmotif is unrequited love, and as
you slog through McCain's nasal
songs you will have no trouble
understandingwhy no one is willing
to spend the rest of their life with
the Georgia native.
At a time when Southern rock is
little more than a desiccated mass,
McCain's release is a sign that a
flood of innovative talent is still not
ready to appear. Instead of tapping
the South's rich and eclectic musical
history including such bands as the
Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Muddy
Waters and the Band, McCain uti-
lizes a formulaic approach with the
occasional Southern flourish to dis-
tract the listener from the album's'
hackneyed tone. The aurally-stimu-
lating strains of the banjo featured at
the beginning of "Let it Slide" are
quickly drowned out by McCain's
sterile vocals. McCain's method pre-
vents him from venturing off toward
new sonic territory, and instead the
singer-songwriter is content to sim-
ply rehash his previous work.
But there is one redeeming quality
to the album: comic relief. With
nonsensical lyrics like "When he
gave his river a voice, he never real-
ly had no choice" and "Well I
poured myself from this lonely bot-
tle, my clown shoes got hung in the
neck" it is simply impossible not to
join in the fun.

Counesy ofmWarner Bros.

We love Jimmy Fallon hair!

Heat thaw out Detroit

By Jeremy Kressman
Daily Arts Writer
It seems so obvious, yet so wrong to make children
measure up to their parents. The transgressions of the
past seem ripe for repetition. Yet the offspring are typ-
ically anxious to avoid the pitfalls of the past while
also excelling in new achievements of the present.
Members of the El Paso, Texas, band Sparta have
inevitably been confronting and reinventing their own
genealogy. Fortunately for some, and
unfortunately for others, Sparta is the
regrouping of underground rock gods At
the Drive-In, who went on hiatus for SPAR
good back in 2001. Last year saw the At the Stat
birth of two At the Drive-In offspring Saturday a
bands, with lead singer Cedric Bixler $13
and Omar Rodriguez forming the Mars Clear Ch
Volta while Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar, Matt
Miller and Paul Hinojos formed Sparta. Their debut
LP, Wiretap Scars, was released in August 2002. The
snarling intensity of At the Drive-In lives on but has
now been coupled with an increasingly melodious
loud/soft dynamic.
Ward, lead singer of Sparta, is conscious of the
advantages of an established rock pedigree. For one
thing, says Ward, "It's a lot easier to get your demo to
a label when you (already) know 10 people at the
label." These connections have certainly accelerated
Sparta's acceptance among fans, the music industry ;

Courtesy of
EATR DreamWorks
Denim is the
new black.
and the media.
The band's name association with At the Drive-In
also opened other doors. In their first year, Sparta had
the chance to tour with other high-profile bands like
Weezer, Jimmy Eat World and Dashboard Confessional.
However, this quick success has also brought a
desire to distance the band from ATDI as a unique
entity. "I'm sure to some people (playing with Weez-
er right away) might have looked a little lame,"
explained Ward. But at the same time, Ward has seen
Sparta undergo maturation as well as
separation from its parent band. He
pointed out that "When you change
TA bands, you change chemistry, you
e Theatre change the way that songs are written."
t 8 p.m. This has given the members of the
group a chance to take on new roles.
annel Ward moved from backing vocals and
guitar in ATDI to lead vocalist/guitarist
in Sparta while Hinojos moved to bass from guitar.
Another interesting adjustment is the increasingly-
shared responsibility of lyrics and songwriting. Ward
feels Sparta is more of a team effort now, because
"We sort of share the responsibility ... I don't write
all the songs or the lyrics, nobody writes all of
Sparta has recently been touring as part of Sno-
Core, a winter-themed music event. This year's lineup
features hardcore bands GlassJaw, Hot Water Music
and Dredg.

By Sean Dailey
Daily Arts Writer

Michigan's indie elite packed the
appropriately named Small's in Ham-
tramck Thursday night for Canada's
Hot Hot Heat. Detroit virgins, these
synth-pop throwbacks provided an
impressive first showing, cranking
out an energetic 50-minute set of
catchy tunes that got the crowd danc-
ing the second the band took the
stage. The only touring act on the bill,
it was clear whom the crowd was
there to see. However, Detroit natives
Blanche almost stole the show before
Heat had a chance to take it back.
Dressed in turn-of-the-century
clothing and incorporating a banjo,
steel guitar and autoharp, Blanche's
bluegrass style was surprisingly.
embraced by the jaded scenesters.
The band did look a little out of
place, comprised of a Lyle Lovett-
esque lead singer, a busty female
bassist in a white floral dress and
two other guys that could have easily
been the fathers of any of the kids
there. While the room clearly dug
the interesting change of pace, as
soon as Blanche left the stage, the
crowd began to chant and demand
the funky Canucks. Hot Hot Heat
gladly obliged.

The band ripped through songs
from their debut LP Make Up the
Breakdown, as well as a track or two
off their EP Knock Knock Knock. All
was well received by the decidedly
younger crowd, as the kids sang at the
top of their lungs and shook their
hips with reckless abandon.
A unique mix of classic '80s style
songwriting and a modern indie ethic,
Hot Hot Heat's music translates into
an incredibly fun live show. The
band's instantly catchy songs were
made to be played in front of a couple
hundred excited fans.
Lead singer Steve Bays, all limbs
and hair, took every opportunity to
leave his keyboard and shout vocals
into the face of anyone in the first
three rows. The band exuded an
upbeat vibe that clearly transferred to
the crowd. It was a welcome change
to the all-too prevalent self-loathing
and introversion of the indie scene.
Hot Hot Heat wanted to be there as
much as their fans and their perform-
ance reflected that.
After they finished their last song,
fan favorite "Bandages," the place
was sweaty, hot and crying for an
encore. Bays assured the crowd that
they would return in the coming
months. Detroit will be patiently

By Aubrey Henretty
Daily Arts Writer

Evolution as a metaphor for person-
al growth teeters by definition on the
edge of melodrama, but folk rocker
Ani DiFranco pulls it back to solid
ground like a pro. The latest album in
DiFranco's 13-year career, Evolve is as
passionate and poignant as any she has
released to date.
Backed by urgent guitars, declara-
tive trumpets, plinkety pianos and a
mellow medley of woodwinds, DiFran-
co tackles an array of topics ranging
from politics ("Yes, the goons have
gone global") to longing ("Pavlov hits
me with more bad news / Every time I
answer the phone") to popular music
("The music industry mafia is pimping
out girl power ... from their styrofoam
towers / And hip-hop is tied up in the
back room / With a logo stuffed in its
mouth") to self-realization ("I walk in
stride with people much taller than me
/ And partly it's the boots but / Mostly
it's my chi").
From the twangy title track and the
melody-driven "Here for Now" to the
quiet and meandering "Serpentine" -
a 10-and-a-half-minute dictum on all
that is wrong with the world - Evolve
has its ups and downs. It begins with a
sigh - "Promised Land" is deep and

jazzy, but lyrically unimpressive com-
pared to the other tracksd -and ends
with the melancholic, enduring croon
of "Welcome To:." DiFranco's inner
editor/producer serves her well here;
though a couple of these songs may
not speak immediately to every listener
(here's looking at "Phase"), they do
convey a strong sense of belonging
exactly where they are in the grand
scheme of the album, inducing the
urge to resist pressing the skip button
at least until the second chorus is done.
One need not be a devout DiFran-
co follower to enjoy this incarnation
of her voice. Minus the aforemen-
tioned rare duds, Evolve is brutally
candid and refreshingly accessible to
the average listener. Concrete images
of dreaded high school locker rooms
and abstract notions of "questions
milling around" give Evolve its
multi-layered appeal.
While Evolve's tracks would be
dynamic and interesting without any
lyrics attached to them, what makes
DiFranco's music truly compelling is
the artist's ability to combine social
commentary so seamlessly with mus-
ings on personal relationships, her
mastery of metaphor and her keen
artistic eye. The resulting album is
simultaneously enthusiastic and
dejected, cynical and hopeful, reflec-
tive and critical. It has, to steal a
phrase from DiFranco, "the kind of
beauty that moves."
RATING: * **

By Joseph Litman
Daily Arts Writer

Many rap fans born at the close of the '70s and
the opening of the '80s revere the early '90s, an era
that heard, among others, legendary groups like De
La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest perfect their
craft. Those who carry a fondness for that time and
those acts have since sought newer groups, like the
Roots and Black Star, hoping to find worthy suc-
cessors to place in such elite company. That gener-
ation need not search any further, because three of
their own, displaying a commensurate love of that
bygone epoch, have emerged as the contemporary
link to hip-hop's fantastic past.
MCs Phonte, Big Pooh and producer 9th Wonder
are Little Brother, a Durham, N.C. based crew
whose debut album, The Listening, is a tremendous
achievement. The record is an 18-track affirmation
of all that is great in hip-hop, with an array of
excellent mic skills and superlative production that
will enrapture fans and remind everyone why the
Native Tongue family set the standard to which all
groups should aspire.
Little Brother clearly understands this, and The
Listening displays an interest in music and group
chemistry that will remind many of hip-hop's most
revered groups. Little Brother's sound should not
be mistaken as boringly derivative or completely
imitative, though. While The Listening's smooth
samples and mid-tempo beats are reminiscent of

Little Brother: Hip-hop's future is now

the sounds popularized by Little Brother's forbear-
ers, that attribute is evidence of the group's influ-
ences, and tracks like "For You" and "Love Joint
Revisited" will mollify any detractors eager to dis-
miss Littler Brother as mimics.
9th Wonder not only wonderfully advances the
art 6f sampling, but he also keeps The Listening
interesting by blending many sounds and various
styles while maintaining a consistent character.
Common to all the beats is a pleasant tone that
makes them readily accessible and engrossing.
The record's sonic quality is further enhanced by
smooth transitions between songs that unite the
LP, making it an hour-long narrative. In fact, The
Listening becomes an unrelenting showcase for
Little Brother's talents and the album's coherent
yet varied musical narrative arc is characteristic
of all great albums.
Phonte and Pooh, each with his own consider-
able ability and distinguishing style, both enhance
and benefit from 9th's excellent work. Phonte has a
Black Thought-like presence, not as domineering
but no less potent. He's able to flow smoothly over
all beats and his line, "Y'all ain't wack / Y'all just
sound wack rhyming after me" is unfortunately
true for many other MCs. Pooh, however, is not
afflicted by this problem and anchors the rhyming
duo in the streets, delivering his verses with a grit-
ty, unabashed style that sets Little Brother apart
from lesser acts who would quickly claim Native
Tongue lineage. LB might excite a specific niche,
but they shouldn't be pigeonholed as coffee house
poets. In fact, attempts to do so are preemptively
rebuffed on "The Yo-Yo," a track that perfectly
exemplifies the group's lyrical dexterity.

The new De La Soul? We donl't trip ...

They also shouldn't be slept on, because Little
Brother has produced a remarkable album, and if
you don't like The Listening, then you don't like
hip-hop. For weary fans, the search may be over.

RATING: * * * * *

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