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August 8th, 2001 Joe Henlin, Dewey Mahood, Jennifer Tatone | Sonic Reducer
 

We Heart Cult Leaders & Pretty Boys

Beguiling new discs from the Strokes, Causey Way and Squarepusher

     
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THE STROKES: THE MODERN AGE AND HARD TO EXPLAIN EPs (Beggars Banquet,
Rough Trade)

New York retro-rock pretty boys look to add a U.S. conquest to their U.K. triumphs.

Generating the sort of response historically reserved for intergalactic purveyors of sexual ambivalence (Suede, Placebo, King Adora, etc.), New York's Strokes have already seduced England's dehydrated pop market. Cross-pollinating the soiled guitar histrionics of numerous post-punk stalwarts, including Television and the Fall, the Strokes infuse every second of these two debut EPs with a collective wink to the razor pop of yesteryear.

However, the most astounding thing about the five songs on these two discs is that they may just be capable of convincing the uninitiated that the Strokes' rock manifesto has never been written before.

Engagingly slutty frontman Julian Casablancas ignites both The Modern Age and Hard to Explain EPs with the suggestive snarls and methadone vocals of a born star. Guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi riddle their compositions with drama, while bassist Nikoli Fraiture and drummer Fab Moretti burn the pavement. On the scorching "Hard to Explain," the band tosses the planet around with the precision of a stoic metronome, thousands of notes whipping Casablancas' lyrics into taut and blistering shape. "N.Y.C. Cops" opens with a primal scream from Casablancas, prelude to a song that will, with great glee, tear you into dirty little pieces.

The second EP, "The Modern Age," is slightly less aggressive, showing a more conventional approach to pop standby topics such as underage girls and the neon debauchery of overconsumption. "Barely Legal" rings of an overdeveloped hangover, with rotted guitar lines and a suitably disgusting bass line unravelling while Casablancas pleads with the conviction of a discarded Ronette. The Strokes have proven to be the first alluring new millennium outfit--even if you have heard it all before. (JH)

The Strokes play Friday, Aug. 10 at the Roseland Grill, 8 NW 6th Ave., 224-2038. The Natrons also appear. 9 pm. $8.

SQUAREPUSHER: GO PLASTIC (Warp)

The London innovator looks beyond the shallow trends that rule the dance floor.

Every genre has its lonely pioneers: Olivier Messiaen transposing birdsong to escape mid-century classical dogma, Thelonious Monk sabotaging swing melody systems, Jimi Hendrix layering pop songs with fuzz, wah and feedback. Techno, as a relatively new musical form, may not have the history of, say, the jazz undermined and reinvented by Monk, but it has a few of its own defining mavericks. Enter Tom Jenkinson--or, as he is more commonly known, Squarepusher.

As a superbad programmer, electric bassist and keyboard jammer, Jenkinson has a serious leg up on the majority of digital dance heads. On 1998's Music Is Rotted One Note, Jenkinson turned his back on the whole concept of drum 'n' bass, the hyper-rhythmic style he's known for, playing only "real" instruments to create an ambient hipster version of jazz fusion (with bass solos rivaling Jaco Pastorius' for equal virtuosity and absurdity). Unlike much of the electronica landscape, Squarepusher's music is more concerned with creative expression rather than up-to-the-minute trendiness. As Jenkinson puts it, "I'm just trying to shut myself out of the mediocrity that surrounds us all." On Go Plastic, he does just that.

Returning to the hardcore abstract drum 'n' bass of 1996's Feed Me Weird Things, Jenkinson drops the live instrumentation in favor of lunatic breakbeat sequencing. Only now he creates with a looser, improvisational feel--melodies don't sustain themselves but mutate into new forms, and maniac beats disappear into static sound. Jenkinson says he aspires to "a space where you are intuiting everything and not even worrying about things like chords and notes." This works best when he attains a righteous groove, as on "Go! Spastic." When things become an electro-fried free-for-all, as on "Greenways Trajectory," the result sounds like a robot puking out its cogs. But Jenkinson has always had the good sense to temper his schizoid tendencies with moments of lush, rewarding lyricism. While the record does contain a few uncharacteristic missteps into completely random digital annoyances, the Pusher counteracts with passages of chilled-out serenity.

The significance of Squarepusher comes from this willingness to experiment--and occasionally fail--in order to advance techno as serious music. Like all great musician-composers, Jenkinson pushes his music forward by breaking out of its constrictions and braving the unknown sound. (DM)

Squarepusher plays Thursday, Aug. 9, at B Complex, 320 SE 2nd Ave., 235-4424. Plaid and Mira Calix also appear. 9 pm. $14+ advance (Fastixx, Ozone).

THE CAUSEY WAY: CAUSEY VS. EVERYTHING (Alternative Tentacles)

The cultish band delivers an album fit for disaffected teenagers everywhere.

It is fitting that the artwork on the new Causey Way album shows band members clad in white European-military-like uniforms, amid a field of yellow, flowering weeds. A fitting contrast, indeed, because it parallels this disc's frequent swerves from erratic and industrial to ethereal and beautiful, an artsy approach that intensifies this band's high-strung drama and emotion. And it also makes sense that the mocking, frantic rock five-piece proudly publicizes itself as a dangerous religious cult (just check out www.thecauseyway.com), seeing as how the music it makes is as disturbing as any mindless cult-follower, jerking listeners from one mood to another like a Twilight Zone episode. Causey vs. Everything often feels frenzied and paranoid, though simultaneously energizing and danceable. You can sense the band's concerted mockery of religion and its hypocrisies throughout Causey vs. Everything. On the song "Jesus Loves You," however, you don't need to work very hard to figure it out,. The song spells out its mission in blunt (if shaky) cries: "Jesus loves you/ You're gonna burn/ The end is coming/ Now don't be late/ You're a Catholic/ You're a Jew/ Jehovah's Witness/ What ya gonna do?/ You're gonna burn." Man, I would have loved to scare my parents with that one back in high school. The sci-fi creepiness, screeching rock volume and stark mad, shivering vocals alone would have had Dad pitching my stereo into the street. Then again, maybe the intermittent angelic sounds would've won 'em over. Nah. (JT)


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