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issue no.
  thursday
162
  january 29
2004
c o n t e n t s
 
Back in Black: Denver Band Black Black Ocean Rocks Again
RED Reviews
 
 
 

Man Destroyed by This Issue of RED
 
 
 

 theBeat
 
RED Reviews
 
by Jamie Gadette and Brent Sallay

The Bens EP
The Bens
BMI

Spontaneity is the mother of all invention. Or at least in the case of The Bens, a project masterminded by Ben Lee, Ben Kweller and Ben Folds. After years of casually tossing around the idea of a collaboration, the three singer-songwriters finally actualized their potential in one fell swoop, recording an eponymous four-song EP in only four days.

On paper, this supergroup appears to be nothing more than a gimmick—a tool for relaunching each musician’s somewhat low-profile career. However, one listen to this debut effort gives every indication that the three indie bedfellows are completely legit. In fact, the album showcases a willingness to experiment, as members collectively embark on territories that went untrod throughout their respective careers. All four songs are distinctively separate tastes of the many possible directions that the three Bens could take. “Just Pretend” echoes Crosby, Stills and Nash with sweet three-part harmonies, while “Xfire” is straight new wave, complete with cheesy, space-age keyboards and modified vocals. “Stop!” and “Bruised” showcase more typically pop-driven notes and choruses.

Yet for all their marked differences, every track is clearly crafted by hopeless romantics — sappiness enhanced by brothers in arms. They claim, “Love just leaves you bruised,” then proceed into sing-song, pounding the piano with glee, sweeping away the pain.
The Bens EP recognizes the need to move forward, quickly. The best is yet to come.—JG


Talkie Walkie
Air
Astralwerks

In my unpublished review for Air's last album, 2001's 10,000 Hz Legend, I wrote the following:

“Air’s Moon Safari came out of nowhere, or more specifically, France, a few years back, lulling the world with its syrupy fresh pop stylings. They touted themselves as ‘the French band,’ yet featured a woman singing in sultry unmistakable English.”

The next year, the band provided an affecting soundtrack for Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides,” leaving some of us with an all too vivid memento of an eager Kirsten Dunst and reaffirming the notion that three days without air can kill you.

But now for their much-belated sophomore effort, Talkie Walkie, the members of the French band are already touting themselves as legends. “Never mind that 10 mHz lies well outside the frequency range of human hearing. The fact is, although 10,000 Hz Legend is still musically intact, it is far from legendary, and is no sure step in that direction for Air…

“…Perhaps the French band would be better off singing in its own native tongue. Or if you, the listener, can find and kill that part of your brain that knows English and respects decent lyrics, you may find 10,000 Hz Legend well worth the cost of trepanation.”

What, you ask, has changed in the past three years? Well, my friends, I am happy to report that the new album from Air does not totally…um, blow. Hmm. On the contrary, actually, it's quite the breath of fresh…hmm, I guess I walked right into that one. Get it? Walked? Like Talkie Walkie? Wow, I'm going to be a great dad.

But seriously, if you, like me, were left severely wanting after 10,000 Hz Legend put crappy baby vocals all over your sweet, sweet Air soundscapes, then you, like me, will surely find reason to rejoice, hands all up in the air and swinging, in this new album.
Talkie Walkie is, simply put, a much more focused album than Legend (and possibly even Moon Safari!), not to mention darker and more subdued, which, quite frankly, is a welcome and comfortable place for the French band to rest for awhile. There may not be anything on here as ITT Tech-ilicious as “La Femme d'Argent,” but if you're really hard up for something like that, maybe you ought to give this next review a read. Seriously. I wrote it just for you. And it’s starting right…—BS

Less than Melodic
Less than Melodic
self-released

…NOW!!! Seattle resident Alex Mabe's resume reads like…um, well, it's a lot better than mine. Check it: a nationally celebrated alto and tenor saxophonist with three consecutive Outstanding Musician Awards at the Essentially Ellington Competition in New York City. He’s also toured the United States, China and Europe with the award-winning Roosevelt Jazz Band and created and published several jazz and orchestral scores of his own music. Oh yeah, and he’s only like 20 years old.

And yet Mabe decided to focus his energy for a full-length debut release on an edgy, ambient acid-jazz sound that doesn’t even feature his primary instrument. I know what you’re thinking—just who does this guy think he is, Bo Jackson? Perhaps. But let me tell you this: Bo don’t know Mabe.

Aside from the aforementioned likeness to Air—most evident on the excellent opening track “Dave” and on “The Idea”—Less Than Melodic’s sound has me fighting not to name drop two of my other favorite ambient artists: Plaid and Amon Tobin.

This sound works most effectively on the darker, more pensive tracks. “Pan Pressure” pits signature Plaid bass hits against one of the most gorgeous discordant keyboard swellings I’ve heard in some time. And both “Lowball” and “Who Killed the Mood?” manage to sound simultaneously effortless and intricate.

Granted, at 50 minutes, the album runs a little long, and your enjoyment of a few of the tracks (”Get On,” “In the Lobby”) will depend largely on your tolerance for the vocoder and kitschy Eddie Murphy movie background music. But don't let that deter you. For an album as varied as this one is, it’s surprising how many tracks succeed, and in how many different ways they manage to do so.

To find out more about Less Than Melodic, visit lessthanmelodic.com, or e-mail the artist directly at funkay66@attbi.com.

brent@red-mag.com
jamie@red-mag.com

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