Oscillons From the Anti-Sun
For the casual Stereolab fan satisfied with a handful of the electronic pop group's readily available full-lengths, this bargain-priced CD-plus-DVD box set is a revelation. For the obsessive 'Lab stalker who's depleted his or her bank account on impossible-to-find imports, these 35 rarities provide a painful reminder that completism can be more curse than virtue.
The set compiles tracks from the band's rare Duophonic EPs, from 1993's Jenny Ondioline to 2001's Captain Easychord. The tracks run the gamut of Stereolab's adventurous amalgamation of styles: Bossa nova to lounge-pop to Krautrock. Top-notch production is de rigeur here, and producer credits include Chicago post-rock homeboys John McEntire and Jim O'Rourke, two among many whose main job has been melding the band's hypnotic guitar/organ/synth rhythms and textured accents with the signature vocal play (often in French and often featuring pro-Socialist lyrics) from Laettitia Sadier and the late Mary Hansen.
Sorry, Francophobes, but Oscillons proves beyond assail that you can rock en Francais.
Track to burn: "Pain et Spectacles"
The Secret Migration
If you can imagine Flaming Lip Wayne Coyne and Jeremy Enigk getting together to drink absinthe and record an album in some mythical wormwood forest, then you can begin to understand Mercury Rev's newest full-length, The Secret Migration. That scenario is not totally beyond the pale, especially considering Rev singer and guitarist Jonathan Donahue pulled a stint as second guitar for the Lips in the early 90s. This is Mercury Rev's sixth full-length studio album, but it was originally released as an internet trilogy before coming out on V2.
Migration is a touch more accessible than previous efforts. Of the 13 tracks, not one exceeds five minutes. (On previous albums, very few songs clocked in under five minutes.) Still, the disc is rife with allegory and apologue, and if you close your eyes you can almost hear the flitter of moths as Donahue sings on "Vermillion," "Truer skies beyond the swirling clouds/The other birds are off and flying south/We'll have to make our own way there somehow/And I'm asking you to please trust me now." It's a compact the Rev's fans have been happy to make over the band's 13-year career.
Track to burn: "Vermillion"
Aw C'Mon Aw Wry
A Hundred Times or More, the marvelously homespun 2003 debut from Athens-based Phosphorescent (singer/songwriter Matthew Houck and friends), was hailed by the few who heard it as a worthy companion to the works of Will Oldham and Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Magnum. But Houck's passionate, twangy tent revivalist hymns suggest the former itinerant busker doesn't spend much time perusing his own press. If you were feeling fussy, the debut could be faulted for its unrelenting dirge-like pace. But with his follow-up, Aw C'Mon Aw Wry, Houck has front-loaded the record with fleshed out, slightly more up-tempo and brass-friendly songs that tap into New Orleans traditions. He's also upped the vocal ante without losing the plaintive, cracked warble that defines so much of the Phosphorescent sound. Either way, Houck's off-kilter singing exemplifies what the Silver Jews' David Berman meant when he sang, "All my favorite singers couldn't sing." C'Mon loses steam three-quarters of the way through in an organ-heavy wash of similar-sounding dirges, but it's the opening impression that sticks, making those lofty comparisons seem perfectly plausible.
Track to burn: "Not A Heel"
After a few promising EPs, Martha Wainwright has delivered a dazzling debut full-length CD. The daughter of Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III, and sister of Rufus, Martha has singer/songwriter genes most musicians would swap half an octave of range for. Some similarities to her musical lineage are evident — her voice is pleasantly reminiscent of her mother's, and a few tunes ("This Life," "Don't Forget") would sound at home on a Kate & Anna McGarrigle album. When she writes about unrequited love, which is often, she spins her tales with a feminist twist and sly, biting humor that brings her father's work to mind (check out "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole").
Track to burn: "G.P.T."