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Sit & Spin

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Rachid Taha
Tekitoi
Wrasse Records
Few musicians can merge old-world musical traditions with modern dance music without causing grunts and groans. In the realm of Arabic music, Ofra Haza did it well and Rachid Taha is the current master of this blended world beat. Taha was born in Algeria and cut his musical teeth as a member of the transplanted immigrant community living in France. Taha was weaned on rai, Algerian rebel and dance music, and is influenced by the energy of punk. This confluence pours into Taha's rebel music, which is about fighting ignorance, poverty, racism and complacency. After playing in a band called Carte de Sejour (French for "residence permit"), which initiated a loose "Arabic rock," he went solo and took the dance music route. Tekitoi ("T'es Qui Toi," "Who Are You?") is largely a collection of dance music touched by Arabic rhythms, rai, and rock. An interpretation of The Clash's "Rock the Casbah," here called "Rock el Casbah," would please the late Joe Strummer. "Voila Voila" and the title tune are tracks that bookend Taha's melding of cultural influences with witty observations and a fiery vocal delivery. The better tracks are where the old-world rhythms are treated as equals to or supersede the dance beats.

Track to burn: "Ya Rayah"

Rating:

--Samir Shukla

Snowglobe
Doing The Distance
Makeshift Music
Memphis by-way-of Athens quintet Snowglobe has made great strides since its debut, Our Land Brains. Led by Tim Regan and Brad Postlethwaite, the group draws on the inspiration of the Elephant 6 collective, with pretty, psychedelic-tinged pop music rich in melodicism and sonic details for their follow-up, Doing the Distance.

The sheer wealth of instruments the band uses creates moments as jam-packed as rush hour. But for the most part, principle songwriters Regan and Postlethwaite manage to keep the music unpretentious with a homey, lived-in quality and a gentle unassuming lilt, which falls just short of the rustic tones of Southern pop. More Beulah than Neutral Milk Hotel, Snowglobe is at its best when it lets its pop instincts take over.

"Regime" highlights this approach with its bouncy, calliope swing. It occurs in a terrific three-pack of songs near the middle of the album. Bookending it are "Changes," with its organ-driven pop that harks back to the Brit Invasion sounds of the Turtles, and the bustling "Rock Song," with a horn-fueled attack that's part Plimsouls, and part crisp pop reminiscent of Grant Lee Philips. The result is a full-bodied and varied album keyed to great indie pop sensibility.

Track to Burn: Regime

Rating:

-- Chris Parker

Andrew Bird
The Mysterious Production of Eggs
Righteous Babe Records
While the media world prostates itself at the feet of Connor Oberst this month, it's sadly comforting to note that another likely record-of-the-year candidate was released with virtually no ado at all.

Following up on his acclaimed 2003 mini-LP, Weather Systems, Andrew Bird's The Mysterious Production of Eggs surpasses his prior effort in terms of scope, sonic experimentation and sheer theatricality. But there's nothing remotely put on here; it's an audio exploration of the mysteries of childhood, creativity and science — you know, the small stuff.

Bird, who was an auxiliary member of the revivalist unit Squirrel Nut Zippers, is the classically trained violinist, guitarist, singer-songwriter and whistler extraodinaire who left Chicago for a farm downstate in Illinois, converted his barn into a studio, and emerged with a new sound and vision in Weather Systems.

The barn plays a role here, too, as the original material was recorded in its creaky, draughty ambience. And with the exception of drummer Kevin O'Donnell and harmony vocalist Nora O'Connor, Bird is responsible for all the instrumentation and singing. Like his one-man live act, Bird makes ample use of tape loops, employing sweeping lines or plucking pizzicato on his violin, then building on the loops with guitar, glockenspiel and that amazing whistle. What emerges on ...Eggs is a mix of rock styles in the vein of the Flaming Lips or Arcade Fire ("Opposite Day," "Fake Palindromes"), noir-folk ballads with gypsy and jazz accents {"Measuring Cups,""Sovay") or Weather Systems-like soundscapes ("01," 12,"). It all makes for a graceful and at times even angelic listen. And you'll find endless hours of entertainment deciphering Bird's lyrics about "Don Quixotes in their B-17s," "electro-static rain," and "good kids sprouting horns."

Bird scrapped the entire record three different times, deciding the first version was too rock oriented and the second too Weather Systems-like (no reason given for the third time). The process may have been torturous, but the hard work paid off in 05's first truly amazing record. We now return you to your regularly scheduled pack journalism.

Track to Burn: "Tables & Chairs"

Rating: 1/2

--John Schacht


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