Stereo Total

Do the Bambi

(Kill Rock Stars)


François Cactus is French and Brezel Göring is German, which doesn't quite explain why their schmaltzy punk/pop sounds like a VW Bug motoring around New York on a gas tank filled with Moët & Chandon—but it helps.

Do the Bambi marks 10 years of digital wit and lounge lunacy from the Berlin-based duo. As usual, the two chow on musical styles like a Chinese buffet: a scoop of French chanson, a serving of disco or easy listening, a sprinkle of rockabilly filtered through minimalist keyboards, guitar and drum setups. This all frames Cactus' brilliantly inane lyrics: short and snappy Dadaist French, German and heavily accented English morsels easily translated with a Berlitz travel dictionary. For "I Am Naked," she feigns a Brigitte Bardot pout. "So what?" she coos as a flight of synth lines buzz about like bumblebees. "That is the way my mother made me, OK?"

Are they kidding? Who cares? Goofy mutability is the bedrock of the duo's cabaret-like charm. Few of Bambi's 19 tracks clock in longer than two and a half minutes (thank god), but inevitably, the album's genre tastings start to get stale. Luckily, it ends with an improbably peppy theremin-infused disco edit of Nico's "Chelsea Girls." Pure Berlin cheese. Which is the point of Stereo Total, anyway. It's a good band—that's great at being awfully bad. (Kelly Clarke)

Sage Francis

A Healthy Distrust



If Sage Francis is guilty of anything, it's coating his medicine in even more medicine. On A Healthy Distrust, the underground MC professes an anger-fueled manifesto that takes on the market-driven music industry and the socio-political climate. His rants are powerful, pertinent and, above all, true—which is precisely why you'll probably forgo popping it in the deck after a rough day's work. Francis, his sophomore album attests, is interested not in entertaining but in educating. The beats here are, for the most part, pedestrian to the point where it sounds like Francis strategically avoids catchiness; it would only interfere with the guts of his highly skilled lyrical message. Meanwhile, he shatters the innocent hip-hop crush—based on the premise that rap was made for dancing and indulgence, not preaching and punishing.

At the same time, Francis' music suffers from the endless gravity of his lyrics; the atrocities of gun carriers and homophobes sit uncomfortably next to the sins of suburbanite rich girls who simple don't know any better (and why would they?). Francis turns his sanctimonious tongue-lashing on the listener, too, sketching a caricature of the monstrous, sensory-overloaded glutton (in all of us) that's constantly craving some form of processed, spoon-fed sugar. Take "Dance Monkey," one of the album's standout tracks, on which the MC scoffs at the ignorant music consumer, whose "favorite radio station is a permanent paid vacation…the repetitive songs that keep playing, she learned all the words and she works it, baby…. There's plenty to feed the empty mouths of the nest-bound." Harsh.

The album is chock full of this tight-assed, pedantic pretension targeting the innocuous 'tween in all of us. Surely the man who has lent his words to X-Games commercials must realize his own hypocritical stance. From a purely aesthetic perspective, the album is powerful and engulfing—just a bit pious and negative for the faint of conscience. (Alex Valdivieso)

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

Worlds Apart



Try this experiment at home. Find a Trail of Dead fan who hasn't heard Worlds Apart and invite him over. Tell him to sit, and play the album. After a few bars of "Will You Smile Again?," the record's opener, you'll notice the subject's head nodding as the churning, percussive guitars and pounding drums remind him of the band's last effort, Source Tags & Codes—one of the most epic, artistic rock albums in recent memory. Now, watch closely. Precisely 87 seconds in, as the song suddenly crashes into the ground like a dying elephant and the wail of a muted trumpet kicks in, his brows will furrow. His jaw may drop. Do not intervene when he fast-forwards to the title track, a saccharine chunk of pop-rock full of high-school-caliber insights like, "Look at those cunts on MTV with cars and cribs and rings and shit/ Is that what being a celebrity means?" As he cycles through tracks of mediocre modern rock, searching in vain for the band he thought he knew, you'll recognize the look in his eyes; it's panic.

Sad, but true: Trail of Dead has followed up a brilliant, meaty record with a sentimental, clunky stab at radio play. To the band's credit, it tried to make an album with actual pacing and dynamics beyond "loud" and "the soft part before it gets loud again." Sometimes the band pulls it off, like on the edgily melodic "The Rest Will Follow" (if you can handle the seagull calls—seriously). But mostly, the soaring vocals and occasional interjections from a women's choir just seem wrong for a bunch of guys who made their name by destroying sets and bleeding on stage. Nice effort, but please don't go all Weezer on us. Bring back the rock. (Taylor Clark)


Before the Dawn Heals Us



If Air has taught us anything, it's that French electronica and making out go hand in clammy hand. Along with more house-oriented compatriots, Air creates music that exudes a distinctly romantic glow. So recently when my CD changer flipped over to the new album from French electro-rock act M83 mid-embrace, I assumed an album's worth of love was on the way. But it wasn't. Caught up in the music's evocative sweep, our innocent smooching took on an unwelcome emotional heft. It was all too much, and before long we had to stop.

The music, a mixture of blurry shoegazer rock and buzzing synthesizer harmonies, appears soothing on paper but, in the hands of enterprising producer Anthony Gonzalez, strives for more. On Gonzales' third, album, Before the Dawn Heals Us, the production is beefed up, augmenting the occasionally tinny sine waves of last year's Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts with pounding live drums and wailing guitars.

And the music itself is even more fatalistic and romantic than before. It's as if M83 has channeled the all-encompassing sweep of ecstasy-fueled trance music into something more closely resembling rock. The results are often stunning, occasionally maudlin, and never easy to ignore—or make out to. (Matt Wright)

The Chemical Brothers

Push the Button



In 1999, arena-sized Manchester big-beat pioneers the Chemical Brothers attempted to build upon their mid-'90s glowstick-hippie revolution by releasing a so-so album full of crossover cameos titled Surrender. That album triggered a three-year hiatus, after which they returned taunting with 2002's Come with Us, which again proved to be a so-so album full of crossover cameos. And now, once again, they have resurfaced with another don't-call-it-a-comeback offering. And how is it? Do you really need to ask?

Push the Button, these incessant Brothers' third mediocre album in a row, opens in typical Chemical fashion with its only hit, a proletariat-rousing number called "Galvanize" that features perennial guest-rapper Q-Tip in one of his more motivational moments. The song uncomfortably marries Tip's signature somnambulant delivery to revolutionary slogans. It's a bit more Rage than Tribe, and the dated vocabulary betrays its progressive aesthetic and gets to the core of the problem: namely, that the Chemical Brothers are, in 2005, trying to motivate a dance-floor uprising that happened a decade ago. And the capable but average mishmash of electronic psychedelia that follows "Galvanize" only reinforces the verdict: It was a revolution that has since turned its course. (Chuck Terhark)

Sage Francis plays with Sol.iLLaquists of Sound and Jared Paul Friday, Feb. 25,at Roseland Theater, 8 NW 6th Ave., 224-2038. 9 pm. $16 advance. All ages.