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The Onion's Music Reviews - 6/16/04


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Each week the humor website, The Onion, publishes music reviews as part of their A/V club. Here are some of the highlights from 6/16/04:

PJ Harvey

Uh Huh Her (Island)

" Using little more than an accordion, a bass, and two quiet minutes, Harvey chronicles a disappointed love with "Shame" before exploding into anger with the raw "Who The Fuck?" Containing the most strained vocals this side of Courtney Love's last album, "Pocket Knife" and "The Letter" spill into "The Slow Drug," a song built around strings, an understated loop, tape hiss, and a whisper. If the name weren't already taken, Harvey might easily have called this The Bends.....There's a unifying principle to it all, however. Harvey produced Uh Huh Her herself, and she plays every instrument but the percussion. Maybe that's why it sounds, to borrow a phrase from Jarvis Cocker, like loneliness turned up to 10.... The loud, fast, angry tracks quickly grab attention, but they sound forced on subsequent listens. Still, the quieter, moodier stuff only sounds better each time, and when the album fades out with the sound of seagulls, an autoharp, and the humbled wisdom of "The Darker Days Of Me & Him," Harvey sounds ready to leave the past behind and move on to her next identity. —--Keith Phipps


Sonic Youth

Sonic Nurse (Geffen)

...Aside from a few scattered tracks and two classic full albums (EVOL andDaydream Nation), the output from Sonic Youth's first two decades tends to be fun to read about, but not always as entertaining to hear. Conceptually, the New York art-punk band's concoction of bratty pop-culture references and avant-garde noisemaking has always been brilliantly colorful, but in practice, it can come out a featureless metallic gray....On the whole, Sonic Nursecompiles a laid-back hour of elaborate plucking and rhythm from five veteran musicians who reserve musical violence and poetic anger for when it feels most appropriate. --Noel Murray




X-Ecutioners' 2002 major-label debut Built From Scratch brought turntablism to the masses, but at a heavy cost. A fairly naked bid for crossover success, the album scored a breakthrough hit with "It's Goin' Down," but only by getting into bed with Linkin Park and the lurching beast that is rap-metal. The overwhelming odor of commercial calculation and demographics-pandering that hung heavy over Built From Scratch's weakest moments lingers throughout the second half of the similarly crossover-friendlyRevolutions, which all too often finds X-Ecutioners playing second fiddle to an outsized roster of uninspired guests.

... With pop-damaged albums like this, X-Ecutioners and the turntablism subculture it represents run the serious risk of gaining the world—or at least the worldly rewards that come with airplay and platinum plaques—but losing their souls. —Nathan Rabin


Br. Danielson

Brother Is To Son (Secretly Canadian)

Daniel Smith's myriad recording projects—Danielson Famile, Br. Danielson, and the like—qualify for the fray. Smith's roots are in the Christian-rock scene, and his music has the quality of street-corner prophecy, all vivid and manic. On Br. Danielson's Brother Is To Son, Smith employs what sounds like a barrage of acoustic guitars over percussive piano and brush drums, letting the warring rhythms stand in for the struggle in his soul. Epic songs like the careening "Cookin' Mid-County" are balanced by concise screeds like "Physician Heal Yourself" and "Things Against Stuff," wherein Smith and his rock disciples speak plainly about trying to be transformed by the renewal of the mind instead of pushed into conformity with this world. The group's preaching drifts into cacophony at times, but the handcrafted feel and casual melodicism mostly make Brother Is To Son sound crumpled, heartfelt, and true.


The Race If You Can (Flameshovel)

The veteran Chicago indie-rock band The Race is raw in a different way. Working with glitch-tronica stalwart Charles Cooper of Telefon Tel Aviv, The Race aims for the rotting-technology atmosphere favored by bands like Grandaddy and Radiohead. ... The Race's songs tend to be sort of indistinct—a common trait in futurist modern rock, where anonymity is practically a theme—but the band keeps most of the tracks under three minutes, merely sketching an elusive vision of romantic decay. Visions like that are the lifeblood of indie-rock, the genre where profoundly personal obsessions can connect with a select group of searchers.

—Noel Murray


Washington Social Club

Catching Looks (Badman)

The band bangs out inviting, clean college rock, and that "college" designation is important: The frame of reference here is the late '80s, with reference points that include The Replacements, Pixies, The Woodentops, The Wonder Stuff, Guadalcanal Diary, Billy Bragg, and the like. Even if WSC co-leaders Martin Royle and Olivia Mancini haven't heard half of those bands, they've still inherited their spirit of sweaty, shouty, riveting rock 'n' roll.

.... Washington Social Club needs to minimize the structural repetitiveness on future releases, and maybe pony up for a production style with more physical oomph. But if it can get some traction, it stands a real chance at greatness. Good bands are plentiful, but a band worth devotion is rare. —Noel Murray


Lali Puna's Faking The Books (Morr Music) starts off glitchy and strange enough—no surprise, given the group's association with the German electronic scene—but it quickly, almost symbolically, casts off any deliberate difficulty in favor of mostly pleasing, Stereolab-esque drone-rock.


Sadly more interesting in theory than in practice is Taking Things Apart (Unschooled), the debut album by one-man show Decomposure. Caleb Mueller assembles Autechre-ish pieces using single sound sources; each track title reflects the source ("Scrabble," for instance, is the sound of a board game all mixed up). While the pieces occasionally take unexpected paths—"Piano/Toy Electronic Drumsticks" is nice—they'll mostly appeal to fans of a crowded, often difficult genre...


Not that there's a huge amount of clamoring competition, but Múm seemed poised to follow its fellow Icelanders in Sigur Rós into at least some renown. Then somebody started singing a lot, andSummer Make Good (Fat Cat) got a whole lot less listenable. Where 2002's Finally We Are No-Onebridged the meandering and the magical, Summer shatters the spell with creepy vocals by Kristín Anna Valtysdóttir, who sounds for all the world like a horror-movie doll come to life. The precious moments when she's not bestowing the willies still shine, but they're hardly enough to make up for the rest...


What The Thermals' Fuckin A (Sub Pop) lacks in sonic diversity, it makes up for in blessed, nearly awesome energy. The vocals by Hutch Harris rarely stray from a strident shout/sing, but he sells them with a passion that's either 100 percent real or faked amazingly well. It's nothing complicated, but overdriven wonders like "Remember Today" don't need anything more than bass, drums, guitar, and conviction...


Mirah, a sometime contributor to The Microphones, is at her best when she's at her most wistful and naked: "Nobody Has To Stay," the opening track on C'Mon Miracle (K), sets her fragile vocals atop plunking and humming strings to chillingly wonderful effect. Elsewhere, as on "The Light," her sleeve-hearted indie-folk gets more directly poppy and fleshed-out, but her gentle, poised moments sound uplifting and affecting. —Josh Modell

You can read the full review at:


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