PRINT December 1994



We’ll Always Have Paris
Lourdes, 8 July 1940: a refugee sensing fate closing in around him, Walter Benjamin writes Hannah Arendt and ruefully quotes an aphorism that will shortly be an epitaph: “His laziness supported him in glory for many years in the obscurity of an errant and hidden life.” “This ain’t Paris,” mutters Babylon Dance Band singer Chip Nold on the group’s belated debut (Matador), “It’s not the 19th century.” This incandescent one-shot reunion recorded over a decade after their break-up offers “errant and hidden life” as pure revel (and reverie). Desperation is Nold’s text, mode, salvation: singing as someone who may never get another chance to be heard, he turns every phrase into final reckoning, secret glory. With Tara Key orchestrating the songs at once as guitar goddess and one-woman answer to Phil Spector (taking BACK TO MONOTHEISM for her jealous motto), things like “Golden Days” and the rocket-from-the-cryptic “All Radical” invoke the heresy that rock ’n’ roll should be impassioned, thrilling, unreconciled. A strange alchemy is at work here: with each sordid detail and doomed wish, the group builds a Paris of their own, brick by clamorous brick.

Streets Smart
Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (Matador), the long-awaited breakthrough: music to do Cultural Studies by, or more proof that post-Modernism recapitulates Invasion of the Body Snatchers as social blueprint. Less music per se than an infinitely pleasant miasma of received gestures—“The Sound of Silence” reharmonized by Fredric (“Freddie’s Dead”) Jameson and Andrew (“Andy Fell”) Ross, with a pinch of Suzi Quatro’s “Lacan the Lacan” for luck—Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain shows that all those years these KMart/K-Tel Bartlebys spent toiling in the bowels of R.E.M.’s Dead Letter Office really paid off. At last the art-punk legacy, passed down from Wire to Sonic Youth, has come to this: refusal made over into swankly skanky Muzak, stasis camouflaged as flux, Dada rolling over and playing d-d-dead. “It was all very, very painless,” Dylan said once upon a time in the basement, but now no more tears or (perish the thought!) rage, just boundless apathy. The 1968 student slogan went “Beneath the Pavement, the beach”; but like Buddy Holly sneered in The Searchers, “That’ll be the day.”

Howard Hampton writes for Film Comment and is working on Badlands: A Psychogeography of the Reagan Era for Harvard University Press.


Top Five
Pavement, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. With damaged guitars and tube amps, these fresh-faced boys crammed more musical samples. into one record than De La Soul. An analogue pomo masterpiece. One of the few ’90s records that asserted its timelessness on the first spin.

Frank Black, “Calistan,” from Teenager of the Year. A thematic follow-up to “Los Angeles” from his eponymous debut, Mr. Black continues his time travels through the days of future past in the city of angels Philip K. Dick in Mike Davis’ City of Quartz. “Used to be sixteen lanes/Used to be Nuevo Spain/Used to be Juan Wayne/Used to be Mexico/Used to be Navajo/Used to be yippy-ay-I-don’t know.”

Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand. Gorgeous pop songs pumping through the blown woofers of a ghetto blaster down the hall from your room.

Stereolab, Mars Audiac Quintet. Standing next to Graduate-era Dustin Hoffman while coasting on an electric walkway through the airport in The Jetsons.

Jeru the Damaja, The Sun Rises in the East. With The Sun Rises in the East, GangStarr’s Hard to Earn, and Buckshot LeFonque, a collaboration with Branford Marsalis—all released in ’94—DJ Premier’s gritty, “found sound” production and turntable wizardry set a new standard for “real” hip-hop. He’s the star here, but Jeru’s politically-conscious-yet-hardcore rhymes and antigangsta stance make him a welcome heir to KRS-ONE’s throne.

Bottom Out
R.E.M., “King of Comedy,” from Monster. On an otherwise strong album, the usually intelligent Michael Stipe bleats “I’m not commodity” repeatedly, betraying an ultranaïf understanding of pop-cultural production and making us wish he still mumbled the lyrics. Kurt Cobain’s “Teenage angst has paid off well/Now I’m bored and old” was more like it.

Hammer, The Funky Headhunter. In which the former dancing fool in genie pants stopped cavorting for KFC and morphed into a mack daddy gangsta, a media illusion that would have shocked Guy Debord.

Offspring, Smash. Unlike Pearl Jam clones Stone Temple Pilots, Offspring at least had the courtesy to wait until after Cobain’s death to release their shameless “Teen Spirit” knockoff. As bad as “alternative” gets.

Rolling Stones, Voodoo Lounge. Another spurt of aggressive mediocrity from these dusty vampires. Unfortunate by-products are the brought-to-you-by-Budweiser tour, the MN minimovie “Love is Strong, or Leathery Dinosaurs Battle Horse-faced Supermodels over Manhattan,” and creeping embarrassment over my affection for Exile on Main St.

Ice Cube, Lethal Injection. A lazy cop-out from a previously incisive rapper, whose internal contradictions made his earlier records compelling and tense. Cube replaces his angry schizophrenia with blunt extremes—stoned gangsterisms and Nation of Islam cant—laid over substandard G-funk beats heisted from his former NWA partner Dr. Dre. A study in how leaders become lemmings in service of the almighty dollar.

Andrew Hultkrans is a writer and former managing editor of Mondo 2000. He lives in San Francisco.


Compilation News
Since we probably couldn’t decide among Silver Jews, Warren G., Chuck Dukowski’s United Gangmembers, Mutter, Pavement, and Gastr Del Sol for best record of the year, the best record for us isn’t the single best achievement but the record that best represents the best: the new hipness of abstract ’n’ roll in general; the Drag City label’s continuation of the SST tradition of label politics as the driving force of musical development in general; the triumphant return of Mayo Thompson’s Red Krayola as a supergroup featuring both artists (Albert Oehlen, Stephen Prina) and musicians (Gastr Del Sol’s D. Grubbs, Overpass’ Tom Watson); a new discovery in avant-garde rock, Gastr Del Sol; the most surprising songwriter group, Silver Jews; the new sensitive/autistic darlings of college radio, Smog; the bizarre Mantis; and more, very promising newcomers. All these achievements. surprises, and developments are represented on Hey Drag City (Drag City Records) by small selections for the most part otherwise unavailable. The label’s past has already become history, and continues into its present. After recording a terrific version of “Delta 88.” Royal Trux may have left the label for which they long were figureheads and gone to the majors, but in the meantime Will Oldham of the Palace Brothers has so much aura that even Nick Cave has been seen watching him from the front row.

Maybe Not
Oasis’s, Definitely Maybe (Sony) is not the worst (because there’s a world of bad records out there that we have nothing to do with) but the most flawed record, the one we would have wished had been sensational. For a decade now, the U.S. has ruled through hip-hop and avant-rock, and techno is a worldwide international phenomenon. Meanwhile British pop produces only a hype a year—it’s a genre as exhausted as the madrigal. Oasis has been praised as the best of this broken British pop, a blend of the Beatles and the Sex Pistols. But they actually sound more like a mix of early rave and James with a much-too-solid rock production. Next to this, some of their feeble predecessors in the hype mode seem like deserving cult bands. Pity: we would have been happy with a band able to move ambivalence into quivering, powerful ecstasy, as the record’s title implies. Unfortunately Oasis is neither ambivalent nor powerful. In New York, they’re playing not arenas but midsized clubs, while the people their record was made for are probably buying Who anniversary CD compilations.

Diedrich Diederichsen is a critic living in Cologne, and the author of Freiheit macht arm, 1993, published by Kiepenheuer & Witsch. Jutta Koether is an artist and critic living in Cologne.

Translated from the German by Franz Peter Hugdahl.


Lords of Jungle
Jungle is all the rage in London: from every other car and boutique you hear its febrile beats, rumblin’ bass, and insolent ragga chat. Now that the sound has broken into the mainstream, most people equate jungle with dance-hall reggae-influenced hits like Shy FX & UK Apachi’s “Original Nuttah.” I prefer the sub-genre of ambient jungle, because it’s at once more experimental and more melodic.

“Renegade Snares (Foul Play Remix)” (Moving Shadow, import) unites my two fave a-j artists, Omni Trio and Foul Play, who pull off the remixer’s miracle of making a perfect original even more sublime: somehow they manage to extract even more searing/soaring orgasmitude out of Omni’s arrangement of soul-diva spasms and mellotronic synth-swoops. The drum-and-bass undercarriage is based around a break beat so crisp and fierce it’s like a cross between James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and an Uzi. What I really love about ambient jungle, though, is its sentimentality—the gushing tenderness of the voices, the tingly, almost-twee piano motifs—and the way that fits the huggy, openhearted poignancy of the Ecstasy experience. Strangely, and thankfully, people continue to make this kind of music even though the luv’d-up E-vibe has disappeared from British clubland, replaced by a sullen aloofness.

Boys in the Band
The chorus of the would-be anthem by These Animal Men, prime movers in the Brit-scene “New Wave of New Wave,” goes “This is the sound of youth today” (Hi-Rise, import). The pat rebuttal would be “No, this is the sound of youth yesterday”—specifically of youth 1966, or worse, its charmless replay in 1979’s mod revival. But what really unnerves me about These Animal Men—and the same goes for the U.S. pop punk of Green Day—is that this is the first time rock revivalism has gotten around to exhuming something I lived through as a late-’70s just-missed-punk adolescent. I’ve always hated those old fogies who greet each new band with a cynical “seen it all before”; now I find myself one, as kids half my age pogo.

Still, everything about “This Is the Sound of Youth” is a tale thrice told and stingless. From the band’s legs-akimbo stage leaps, windmilling Pete Townshend power chords, and speed-freak stares to the video’s boys-will-be-boys plotline (the band as ten-year-old schoolkids throwing paper pellets at girls and cheeking their wrinkly old school ma’am), this is prehistoric stuff: a willful flight from all the things that make ’90s pop exciting (samplers, remixology, women’s ferocity), a retreat into a Luddite, homosocial nostalgia.

Simon Reynolds lives in London and New York. His book The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion and Rock n’ Roll, cowritten with Joy Press, is due out in March from Harvard University Press.