Dignity and Shame (Merge)
ERIC BACHMANN STICKS OUT HIS NECK AND SINGS TO THE HEAVENS, INDUCING BOTH CRINGES AND WONDER.
On every record he makes, Eric Bachmann pushes his instantly recognizable baritone vocal range just...a...little...bit...higher, to the point where this, his fourth album as Crooked Fingers, finds him aping a giddy Paul Simon with a falsetto "yee-hee heee!" It's a funny thing to hear from a guy who crafted his post-Archers of Loaf career out of forlorn torch songs sung in a register as deep as their subject matter, and such experiments smack of precious embarrassment. Luckily, there are only a few of these "singing, ladies and gentlemen" moments on Dignity and Shame. The first comes from "Twilight Creeps," by far the album's furthest departure from Crooked Fingers tunes of old. It's upbeat, full of bright, sunshiny-day imagery: skipping down the street, giving the world one big hug. This new, happy-go-lucky Bachmann works, if for no other reason than because he brings a new dynamic to a band that was heretofore pretty mono-moody: all pouty, all the time. Bachmann's lust for life, which he only hinted at in 2003's Red Devil Dawn, isn't the only new color in Crooked Fingers' palette. There's also the addition of guest vocalist Lara Meyerattken, an Australian siren who adds a welcome dynamic to four of Dignity and Shame's tracks, including its two best, "Call to Love" (an old-fashioned "I love you," "Oh yeah, well I love you, too" duet) and "Sleep All Summer" (a dreamy slide-guitar ballad, akin to Santo and Johnny's "Sleep Walk"). And then there's the mariachi horn section, which turns the other standout track, "Valerie," into a Neutral Milk Hotel-inspired romp. In the end, these songs rank Dignity and Shame among Bachmann's best work. (Chuck Terhark)
Seven: Headshots (Epitaph)
TIME CAPSULE OF UNDERGROUND HIP-HOP GEMS REVEALS SLUG IS PSYCHIC.
Bravado is easy when you're moving millions of units. Just ask Kanye West, whose talents are unquestionable but whose boasts are quickly becoming as flaccid and riskless as P. Diddy's have. But to front like you're Dre while playing bomb shelters and putting out tapes in the year 2000? That's just the type of neck-out attitude that keeps hip-hop lively. And to back it up with bumping and blustery tracks that still stand up five years after the fact? Well, that's just strange. This is where the rerelease of Atmosphere's Seven: Headshots comes in. Originally released as a very-limited-edition tape in 2000, it has been rereleased on Epitaph Records. The 21 tracks serve as a snapshot of the Minneapolis crew after the warm reception of its debut, Overcast!, but before the band got all huge. The production, courtesy of Ant, and the lyrical delivery, courtesy of Slug and the long-gone Spawn, are both seamless studio recordings with tracks like the swinging "The Jackpot/Swept Away" and perennial fan favorite "The Abusing of the Rib" sounding as supple and powerful as anything recorded since. Slug claims in the Headshots liner notes that this album is the sound of Atmosphere growing out of the battle-rap stylings of Overcast! and into the more mature sounds that have had critics irritatingly slapping the emo-rap tag on them since. But Slug is still challenging here, having a hell of a lot more fun than on later records. On the NC-17 "@ It Again," he's claiming he fucks your girlfriend. Then on "To the Break of Shawn" he announces his mission "To be the man on the mic/ to be the man on your mind/ to be the man who made you push rewind." And that's when you realize that by now he probably is fucking your girlfriend. (Mark Baumgarten)
Crooked Fingers plays with Dolorean, Reclinerland and DJ Dickel Tuesday, April 19, at Berbati's Pan, 10 SW 3rd Ave., 248-4579. 9:30 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. 21+.
Atmosphere plays with Grayskul and P.O.S Wednesday, April 13, at Roseland Theater, 8 NW 6th Ave., 224-2038. 8 pm. $15+ advance (TicketsWest). All ages.