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March 23, 2004 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2004-03-23

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The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - 9



By Alex Wolsky
Daily Arts Editor


David Byrne's solo works have always been
challenging. Most people, admittedly, never made
it all the way through the sound experiment The
Forest or the trip-hop meltdown, Feelings. It's OK;
rumor has it Byrne didn't either. His obsession
with world music and complex polyrhythms was
always hinted at during his tenure with new wave
pioneers Talking Heads, and it __.......___
has become a fully fleshed out David Byrne
idea within his solo work. It
has, however, always been a Grown
troubling endeavor: beautiful Backwards
yet inaccessible.
Byrne's latest release, Grown
Backwards, finds the eclectic leader experimenting
with pop covers (Lambchop's "The Man Who Loved
Beer"), opera (including a duet with Rufus Wain-
wright) and a full-time orchestra (The Tosca Strings).
Many, if not all of the songs, are complimented by
the bob-and-weave tactics of hurried strings and spa-
cious arrangements, juxtaposed with Byrne's lofty
tenor. This, in part, contributes to the superior flow
and sequencing of Grown in relation to Byrne's other
works which have, at times, seemed jerky and unre-
lated to one another.
His power has always rested in musical delivery:
excessive and theatrical. But it seems that the more
direct Byrne becomes, the less emotive he becomes,
and the more subtle and subversive he becomes, the
more strident and emotive he becomes.
Continuing where 2003's Lead Us Not into Temp-
tation left off, the record's opening track, "Glass,
Concrete & Stone," is a densely layered work blend-
ing strings, minimalist guitar and tabla percussion.
"The Man Who Loved Beer" is a lush, melodic exer-
cise for The Tosca Strings. "Dialog Box" and "The
Other Side of Life" are the record's peak, however,
with their swaying Motown horns and danceable
rhythms, coupled with syncopated strings and a

courtesy of i mrsty tar

I am getting sleepy.

Courtesy of
This is not

El-P's 'Water' polluted
but, not yet burning


beautifully arranged rhythmic swing.
Two tracks, "Au Fond du Temple Saint" and "Un
Di Felice, Eterea" find Byrne awkwardly tackling
opera. The latter, a piece by Verdi, finds Byrne com-
fortably projecting his voice upon a subtle canvas of
piano and minor strings. His tenor protrudes through
the nearly empty music, which showcases his melan-
choly vibrato. The former, a piece by Bizet, features
pop-singer Rufus Wainwright, and as a result, loses
the intimacy and effect of the latter. Also, Wain-
wright's voice and range, when displayed against
Byrne, are weak and leave much to be desired.
With every Byrne solo effort, however, there are a
handful of aberrations. "Empire" is a weak attempt
at political satire, while "Glad" is a swirling,

macabre nursery rhyme that slowly builds but is
unfortunately cut short, ruining any chance of it
becoming developed. "Pirates," an uninspired return
to Byrne's Latin phase, and "Astronaut," a half-baked
attempt at lyrical abstractionism, combine to make
the latter third of the record a tough run.
Where Grown Backwards excels, it is perhaps
Byrne's strongest, most impressive musical solo
effort to date, folding his obsessions with Afro-
Cuban rhythms, American art funk and work-a-
day surrealism into his sweetest melodies ever.
The former Talking Head has rarely sounded as
vital. Where Grown Backwards misses, it is the
sound of an icon fully utilizing his space for a
shrugged-off experiment.

By Hussain Rahim
Daily Arts Writer
Although hip-hop had a brief love
affair with jazz in the early '90s, the
connection was only tangential as
rap artists used jazz as samples for
their beats. While jazz's influence
on today's hip-
hop is nearly El-P
some artists still High Water
tap into this con- Thirsty Ear
nection. Since
many of the rappers who spearhead-
ed the past movement were largely
on the outskirts of the mainstream
(The Pharcyde, Digable Planets, A
Tribe Called Quest), who better to
re-introduce these lost loves than
the genre pushing outsider El-P. The
underground hip-hop beat architect
and Def Jux labelhead decided to
cut out the rapping altogether and
produce a straight-ahead jazz album
- almost.*
The recording process involved El-P
bringing in skeletal compositions,

which he then presented to the mem-
bers of the Blue Series Continuum.
They then improvised to make the
final pieces heard on the record.
El-P's distinctive post-apocalyptic
production style cannot be diluted;
even in its most basic form, while
being interpreted by others, it domi-
nates the record. His doom-and-
gloom-infected production is
punctuated with nightmarish piano
chords, sinister flutes and distant
trumpets (El-P will score a horror
film one day, mark my word). On
songs like "Get Your Hand Off My
Shoulder, Pig" and "Sunrise Over
Brooklyn," the album's focus is most
clear, and on other tracks like "Get
Modal" the sound devolves into a
free-jazz cacophony which isn't as
nice to your ears.
Experimental, brave, but not
always good, High Water is a definite
step away from the Norah Jones
brand of Musak jazz that has taken
over America. Dissonant and grating,
much like El-P's music, this is not
for everyone, but for those brave
enough to venture a listen, there is
some good to be found.

Frusciante kicks habit but still Collides with People

By Joel Hoard
Daily Arts Writer
On Shadows Collide with People, his
fourth solo record, Red Hot Chili Pep-
pers guitarist John Frusciante still
sounds like a man who's happy just to
be alive. Five years after kicking a nasty
heroin habit, his demons still haunt him,
but by this point, at least, he's come to
grips with his past. Take for example
the reflective "Second Walk," on which

he sings "I've paid it off and paid for it
again / All these miserable feelings
never end / But to ......._..._
fall and be down's John
something I tran- .i
scend." Frusclante

Frusciante opts
for a more sub-
dued sound on
Shadows than in
his work with the

Collide with

ers. As a songwriter, he shows a knack
for dulcet melodies and dramatic
Though possessing only average
vocal talents, Frusciante still sings with
confidence and raw emotion on songs
like the brooding opener "Caravel,"
wherein he issues a Cobain-esque howl,
and the serene "Ricky."
It's hard not to feel happy for John
Frusciante while listening to Shadows
Collide with People. Maybe all those
miserable feelings will never end, but at
least he's getting on with life.

Chili Peppers, and he abandons funky
pop-rock riffs for simple strummed
acoustic guitars and droning synthesiz-

t ."A voice so beautiful it's almost impossible to

The Ark

avoid falling under her spell"

316 S. Main Street
Wednesday, March 24th


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