Music

  • Harry Smith

    WHEN I BEGAN PLAYING the Anthology of American Folk Music, I started bouncing the name of its compiler, Harry Smith, off art-world friends, and also the not completely coidentical group with whom I like to swap opinions about rock ‘n’ roll, and no one had heard of him. But Smith—born 1923, died 1991—was certainly some kind of artist, and rock music would not be what it is without him. Issued in 1952 as a set of eighty-four recordings from the late ’20s and early ’30s, all culled from Smith’s collection, the Anthology was hugely important to the musicians and audiences behind the folk revival of

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  • Bob Dylan

    I HEARD A TRACK from Bob Dylan's new Time Out of Mind (Columbia) on the radio a few weeks before the album’s release. I didn’t recognize the voice right away, but I was moved by its unique and powerful sound, like a venerable, shamanic Delta blues man backed by some weird, Tom Waits–like band. It was profound blues, ancient and future music.

    Before the song was over it hit me that it was Dylan with another new voice: deep, dark, aged in wood, like maybe the same wood Dante Alghieri wrote about rambling in. Dylan is a spiritual itinerant and his Time Out of Mind has ramblin’ music for all forms

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  • Digital Reggae

    MAKING LIKE A CROSS between Mondo 2000 and Condé Nast Traveler, Business Week recently offered its readers a peek at the business trip of the near future. The CFO of the twenty—first century, the magazine testified, will be a cyberpunk in all but name, required to don a pair of VR goggles and “‘fly’ over a 3-D landscape representing the risk, return, and liquidity of a company’s assets.” And damn if the accompanying computer graphic of one such landscape—a pastel mesh of aquamarine blue and salmon—didn’t make that glowing moor of financial data look as inviting as a sunlit beach in the

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  • Buzzsounds

    THE RANDOM PLAY button on my six-CD player is my own personal DJ. It’s free-associating discreet pieces of information, but that’s as bricolage-y as we’re going to get. I want my music to tell me something, not reflect my environment back at me in freaky fractals, and I’ve stacked this deck so the player will deal me meaning in spades. 1-2-3-4-5: 3 the machine stops and makes a joke, “Beep! Mark, it’s the wicked witch of the west, your mother.” It’s “Voice Mail #3” from the Rent soundtrack; talk about disrupting the narrative! Then the player goes meta on me—guitars like jackhammers and a voice,

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  • Polly Jean Harvey

    THERE’VE BEEN MORE than a few pretenders to the throne of New Rock Goddess—Courtney Love, Liz Phair, Joan Osborne, Alanis Morissette, not to mention sundry Bikini Killers, Breeders et al—but for whatever reason, nobody’s been willing to take the risk to come across as an artist with a capital “A,” a Romantic-style genius, someone possessed by her muse or her daimon, or even the hellhounds on her trail. Nobody except PJ Harvey: a nice girl from a small town near Yeovil, England, who, as the legend goes, was brought up by groovy boho parents in a house full of blues musicians and stonecutters.

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  • Welsh Rock

    JUST A STONE’S THROW away from Joe Orton’s old stomping grounds, the four man, one woman group Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci take the small stage of the Garage in Highbury Park. Though they’re all in their early to mid 20s, they make no concession to the Britpop uniform of ’70s retro and sports stripes. Dressed simply in T-shirts and jeans, they dive straight into the twists and turns of songs like “Paid Cheto Ar Pam” (Don’t cheat on Pam), “Miss Trudy,” and “The Game of Eyes”—Brian Wilson–like melodies interspersed with moments of furious trance rocking. Singer Euros Childs tosses his head and pumps

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  • Keiji Haino

    KEIJI HAINO IS AN OBSCURANTIST’S dream. He has a supernally cool, all-black surface—knee-length leather jackets, Beatle boots, stovepipe pants, Ray-Bans, long, beautiful hair cut straight across the forehead. The rocker getup is both a beckoning and a keep-out sign: being understood is not his modus, but Haino has achieved a reputation as a kind of unearthly visionary for giving his audience what it wants.

    A birdlike Japanese man in his mid ’40s, Haino has learned to make his every step seem important. One of his American friends claims never to have seen him without sunglasses. Though able-bodied,

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  • The Mekons

    IT’S A COMPLIMENT to say that virtually everything in the Mekons United catalogue reads like a practical joke. Of course, there really must be a Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, Florida, where THE MEKONS—that rowdy, collectivistic, erstwhile punk band founded in Leeds in 1977—hung their group-made paintings and other visual and verbal effluvia this spring. But despite the catalogue’s posh design and the genuine Mekons CD slipped in the back sleeve, Mekons United gleefully begs to be interrogated for its authenticity, if not its authorship.

    This is, no doubt, just as the band, or more exactly its

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  • Table of the Elements

    AT A TIME WHEN many are describing vinyl as thoroughly “auratic” (in Benjamin’s sense), recording labels are attempting to make CDs “unique” through any number of desperately ingenious packaging ploys (using cardboard and metal, among other materials). Atlanta-based label TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS is clearly ahead of the game: putting a conceptual spin on the “inauthenticity” of CDs, the label has gone back to the hardest form of hardware: pure, chemical substance. Fans of avant-garde and atonal music are still referring to two recent releases—by Chicago’s Gastr del Sol (the brilliant collaboration

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  • Two Dollar Guitar

    Way back in the era BCD (Before Cobain’s Death), when alternarock had barely begun to rule the world, some people were already sick of all that . . . Zepness. So they went in another direction altogether and invented something called slo-core: bands like Low, Mazzy Star, and TWO DOLLAR GUITAR made music that had a lot more to do with early blues, bummed-out country, and Joy Division during their heroin days than “yo, my dick is sooo big” guitar theatrics.

    Two Dollar Guitar, the Hoboken, New Jersey, band made up of former Half Japanese member Tim Foljahn, ex-Das Damen bassist Dave Motamed, and

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  • Tortoise

    Bongload. Try saying that word a couple of times, let it roll around on your tongue: bongload, bongload. . . . Listening to TORTOISE, you get the feeling that the guys in this Chicago band use it a lot (both the word and the stuff). If this sounds like a criticism, it’s not, really: the oceanic, spaced-out instrumentals that comprise their three albums (1994’s Tortoise, 1995’s Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters, and the recent Millions Now Living Will Never Die) simply happen to be the perfect accompaniment to the rustling of plastic baggies and the muffled inhalations of bud appreciation; to the

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  • Klezmatics

    I first heard the KLEZMATICS’ Rhythm + Jews (Flying Fish) over breakfast with five gay men in a purple-painted pad on Haight-Ashbury. Track one featured demonic yells and an Arab drum, track two a medley of “NY Psycho Freylekhs”—Imagine “Hava Nagila” in overdrive. The third track was a tender love song to “feygele mayn,” “my little bird” in Yiddish. Feygele is also slang for homosexual, my first inkling as to why the Haight-Ashbury house drank in the Klezmatics with their morning coffee.

    The name of their first album, Shvaygn=Toyt (Piranha), rendered the ACT UP slogan “Silence=Death” in Yiddish.

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